HAMMOND — The School City of Hammond honored its food services staff Friday as a part of an eight-year tradition to say thank you to those serving the city's students.
This spring, though, School Lunch Hero Day looked different.
Under social distancing guidelines in place amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, food service personnel in the School City of Hammond have shifted their services.
Instead of serving up hot meals in school, the Hammond food service team is delivering prepackaged meals families can prepare at home, including everything from pancakes to rib sandwiches.
Meals come with instructions for how to be heated and how long they can be kept after delivery.
"We truly do good," said Christine Clarahan, director of food and nutrition services for the school city. "We have really high quality food in our district."
In Hammond, breakfast and lunch meals are being distributed from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Families receive can receive two meals on Mondays and Wednesdays, and one on Friday.
The district's food service team has been operating curbside meal pickup from six Hammond elementary schools since March 16 — the same week schools were ordered closed across the state.
Since then, the school city has served 167,766 meals to students in and around Hammond.
Meals are available to all children 18 and under. For those without students present for meal pickup, a printable form that must be shown when arriving for meals is available on the school city's website.
On Friday, Hammond's food service teams were surprised with chalk messages drawn by Hammond art teachers at each of the district's six food distribution locations with encouraging messages like "We Love You" and "Thank You School Lunch Heroes."
Families driving by shouted their thanks to their school lunch heroes at Morton Elementary. Some even came with coloring pages and decorated signs.
A total of 413 children were served Friday at the elementary.
Gavit Middle/High School teachers Rivian Ross and Sara Hebble stood on the corner at Morton on Friday morning with signs cheering on both the food service team and the students receiving their meals.
"We want to support the students and the lunch ladies that work so hard every week," Ross said.
Hammond's curbside food service program will continue through the end of the school year at Edison, Franklin, Harding, Irving, Maywood and Morton elementaries. The district will add O'Bannon Elementary for its summer food service program, which will be conducted in the same fashion, through August 7.