The Secretary of Education, Eligio Hernández, called on families with minor children in the public education system to take advantage of the fact that the dining rooms are preparing and delivering lunches to ensure that these minors continue to eat properly.
Although due to the health emergency that has caused the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, classes are being offered remotely, after a claim from several sectors, the school canteens were activated to produce lunches, that those parents or guardians who did so If they request, they can pick up the nearest or most convenient school, in many cases without even having to get out of the car.
However, the secretary and the director of the School Food Authority, Francheska Reyes, confirmed that thousands of daily lunches have been lost because the parents or guardians of the minors have not come to pick them up.
Nelly Ayala, president of the Union of School Canteens, also confirmed that, despite the work that employees have done, they have been forced to throw away thousands of lunches.
“Very sadly we have had to communicate that the number of people who are collecting the food is not what we expected,” Hernández said.
Ayala said that cafeteria employees have been doing their part since it was announced on August 31 that they would be preparing the lunches. But, sadly, they have had to throw away many of those lunches.
“That (lunches) cannot be saved, or frozen, or stored, or anything like that. It has to be thrown away, ”Ayala lamented. “The only way to save that is for the committed parents to come pick it up. And everything has been done to accommodate them as best as possible, but there are people who do not collect them. It’s not the program’s fault, it’s that they don’t pick them up ”.
The secretary recalled that there are regulations that do not allow the DE to save or preserve those already prepared foods, so that if they do not look for them there is no choice but to throw them away.
Hernández affirmed that a great effort is being made to be able to maintain this service, without complications associated with COVID-19 having been reported. He also stressed that the preparation of packed lunches entails an additional cost for the purchase of the trays and containers for liquids to be made.
The service, the secretary explained, can also be offered by private school canteens, which receive funding allocations through the Food and Nutrition Services Authority. Only a few are currently doing so.
Hernández explained that they estimated that they would be preparing 100,000 lunches a day. But the reality has not been that, and the number of applications has been well below that number.
And what is worse, thousands of lunches have been thrown away every day.
“Today (yesterday), coincidentally, is the day that more people came to pick up lunches. There were 31,041 lunches that we delivered, ”Hernández commented. He added that a total of 33,499 lunches had been ordered and prepared.
He explained that the directors can make the decision as to ask the person in charge of the dining room to make more or less lunches, as a director in Juncos did after the 150 lunches they had asked for, they barely picked 50 for two days followed.
For comparison, in September 2019, a daily average of 156,980 daily lunches were served in public schools, as well as another 29,595 in private school canteens.
Reyes also recalled that in school canteens, lunch can be modified to adjust to a diet that a minor needs to attend to any condition. “It can be a meal low in sugar, low in sodium, free of gluten or some other allergen.”
In fact, Reyes and Hernández announced that they have requested a dispensation to expand the preparation of lunches beyond the primary responsibility of the system of granting them to minors between 5 and 18 years old, and offering them for all children under 18 years of age in the nucleus family. They expect to have approval for this expansion in the next few days, and begin to deliver them by the last week of September.
“Our recommendation is that you use the program, we have gone through a lot of work to implement it. It is a balanced meal service, validated according to the needs and development of children. Let them know that this assistance is available ”, insisted the secretary. “A genuine effort is being made. There is food and there is will ”.