Monday, 27 April 2020 19:41

On the HPARD lunch program menu: Good meals, drive-through service

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The Houston Parks and Recreation Department created a new curbside drive-through offering to distribute about 1,500 meals a day. Here, HPARD’s Amanda Ramos places meals in the back of a participant’s vehicle. The Houston Parks and Recreation Department created a new curbside drive-through offering to distribute about 1,500 meals a day. Here, HPARD’s Amanda Ramos places meals in the back of a participant’s vehicle. Photo by Rummeka Allen

The global health crisis forces Houston Parks and Recreation Department to get creative with its meals program for youth.

Feeding Houston’s youth is nothing new to the Houston Parks and Recreation Department. But this year’s drive-through service is.

About this time of year, HPARD community centers are even more full of life than usual as kids from across the city come in to take part in the summer lunch program. In years past, they would find a place to sit and eat lunch onsite. This year is different: the global pandemic saw to that.

The spread of the novel coronavirus and resulting practices of social distancing has curbed most normal activity, but it couldn’t stop HPARD’s summer lunch program. Instead, it simply drove it to the curb. Parks staff exercised a little imagination, developed a drive-through curb-side service concept, and kept the food coming.

The result is a Curbside Meal Program for Youth that distributes about 1,500 meals a day to Houston children and youths from age 1 up to age 18.

HPARD Administrative Coordinator Rummeka Allen oversees the meal program. She said Parks staff have ensured the transition has gone well, and recipients appreciate their efforts.

“Everything’s going smoothly. Hopefully it stays that way,” Allen said.

And these are no stale sandwich and chips lunches. They are nutritious meals packaged to be heated later. One day, gumbo and cornbread was on the menu. Then there was the day when chicken chilaquiles was a the center of a well-balanced lunch. Other days, the main course might be chicken sliders.

This is still a youth-focused meals program. The food is for the kids, not the grownups.

Allen said adults can choose the nearest of 49 community centers across Houston and drive their vehicles through the driveway any weekday between 1-3 p.m., stopping long enough for HPARD staff to place boxed lunches inside. The number of lunches matches the number of kids in the cars.

 ParkCubside Inside1
 Curbside Meal Program participants drive up in their cars through the community center driveways to get the meals.

To reduce personal contact and comply with social distancing, recipients don’t even have to get out of the vehicle or roll the windows down. They can open the trunk with the interior trunk latch and Parks personnel will put the lunches in the trunk or rear of the vehicle.

“The participants drive up in their cars through the community center driveways to get the meals,” Allen said. “Staff is outside with the meals, and they do a headcount of the number of children in the car. They have to have their children present with them in order to receive the meal.”

Although some of the pick-up sites have a higher volume than others, the lines move quickly.

“It depends on the site,” Allen said. “There can be a sporadic flow of cars and about 60 to 80 participants at a couple of the sites. But people generally don’t have to sit in a long line to receive the food.

“They can go to any site. This is why we opened so many community centers,” she said. “We want to have one close to them so they don’t have to use a lot go gas to get to a location.”

The Curbside Meal Program for Youth is scheduled to continue through May 1. Allen said there’s a chance it will be extended, though, depending on the “Stay Home, Work Safe” order issued by Harris County. If it continues into May and further disrupts the school year and kids’ ability to obtain lunch, HPARD’s lunch program is all but certain to fill the void.

This is a reimbursement-based program, Allen said. The state approves timeline. The city then pays for the meals from local vendor Revolution Foods and is reimbursed by grant funds from the Texas Department of Agriculture and the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program.

View a full list of HPARD facilities providing curbside meals.

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