TVUSD requires proof of enrollment for grab-and-go meals after rush from outside district

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Nutrition Services employees from Temecula Valley Unified School District transport school lunch meals for families with students enrolled in TVUSD to a drive-up lunch meal distribution operation. Valley News/Shane Gibson file photo

The Temecula Valley Unified School District has made some adjustments to its grab-and-go meal distribution after it was overwhelmed with demand in September, a problem district officials said was exacerbated by families from outside the district driving in to receive food from TVUSD campuses.

As of Monday, Sept. 21, families can collect free meals from all six TVUSD middle school campuses for all students enrolled in the district and their siblings under the age of 18, as long as proof of enrollment is shown.

Enrolled students do not have to be present to receive meals, but non-enrolled siblings must be, according to TVUSD.

Meal collection is only available Mondays between 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.; families receive five days’ worth of breakfast and lunch for the week.

The week before, no identification or proof of enrollment was required – and that’s what district officials said created the problem.

TVUSD, which has about 28,000 enrolled students, began Monday-only food distribution at some school sites, Sept. 14.

That day, the district prepared about 40,000 meals, expecting that to be sufficient for the student population. But the district quickly found demand outstripped supply, Lori Ordway-Peck, TVUSD assistant superintendent for business support services, told the district’s board of education later that week.

“We had no idea we would have that kind of demand, and if you are familiar with the enrollment in our district 40,000 meals should have been more than enough,” Ordway-Peck said. “What we learned is that word got out throughout the southwestern portion of our county and even into northern San Diego County that we were not checking ID.”

The district knows that was the case because those individuals told the district, Ordway-Peck said.

“We know that because people have called and complained and said things like, ‘I drove all the way from Menifee and you ran out of food,’” Ordway-Peck said. “We know this because we have seen social postings that commented on the wonderful quality of food from people who live in Murrieta. We know this from a number of sources, including neighbors telling on neighbors.”

Ordway-Peck said that left some TVUSD families unable to receive food, Sept. 14.

“The behavior was unfortunate,” she said. “We had people actually driving from school to school. We had people calling us up who resided in other districts calling and scolding us because we ran out of food, and they aren’t even residents of our district. There was really kind of unfortunate behavior from people and at the detriment to our own students.”

Boss said when the district offered a similar program with no ID requirement in the spring, it did not experience the run on services it saw Sept. 14, and it’s not entirely clear why.

“Any reasons why at this time would be speculation and assumptions that in the spring it was early and families possibly weren’t as significantly impacted financially,” Boss told Valley News. “Additionally, most surrounding school districts were offering similar services of having free, no ID programs in place in the spring. That is not the case at the current time. Many have remained an ID program.”

The district’s solution was to require families seeking to collect meals to show proof of enrollment, although it meant that only families with at least one enrolled TVUSD student can receive meals.

Parents may also show the student barcodes that were distributed during the first weeks of meals service to receive meals.

“If your student is enrolled and you do not have the barcode, you may ask our staff at any of the middle schools for this card,” according to TVUSD’s website.

Boss said while the district was averaging 12,000 meals distributed before the rush Sept. 14, after the new proof-of-enrollment restriction, the district still distributed more than 32,000 meals, Sept. 21.

“This is a big increase over previous weeks so we are definitely seeing a dramatic increase and need within our own TVUSD community,” Boss said. “We were able to feed everyone who showed up for food.”

Five days’ worth of meals will continue to be provided free of charge and can be collected from 11 a.m to 1 p.m. Mondays at the following locations: Bella Vista Middle School, 31650 Browning St. in Murrieta; James L. Day Middle School, 40775 Camino Campos Verde, in Temecula; Erle Stanley Gardner Middle School, 45125 Via Del Coronado, in Temecula; Margarita Middle School, 30600 Margarita Road, in Temecula; Temecula Middle School, 42075 Meadows Parkway, in Temecula and Vail Ranch Middle School, 33340 Camino Piedra Rojo, in Temecula.

If Monday is a holiday, the district will provide four-day packs of meals at the same time Tuesdays, TVUSD said.

According to the district, meal packs will include breakfasts and lunches for the week, a variety of fruits and vegetables, a half-gallon of 1% white milk and a half-gallon of juice.

Will Fritz can be reached by email at wfritz@reedermedia.com.