Bus driver Karen Whelchel knows her routes in East Central Independent School District well. She’s worked for the district for close to three decades and greets the students who board her bus at each stop.

Whelchel’s bus has been out of operation since schools were closed to prevent the spread of coronavirus. But on Monday morning, she again sat behind the wheel and drove the mostly rural Southeast Bexar County roads of East Central ISD, this time delivering meals to students.

She stopped at Harmony Elementary, located off of U.S. Highway 181, around 11 a.m. before driving to St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Elmendorf. Her bus carried coolers full of meals and two ECISD employees in the child nutrition department to help distribute them.

At each stop, Whelchel opened the doors to waiting families and directed groups to approach the bus one at a time. Families were able to pick up a lunch for each student as well as breakfast for the following morning.

“We worry about our children, if they’re going to eat or not,” Whelchel said. “At least I know they are going to have some kind of food and they can eat.”

East Central ISD is a vast district, covering 296 square miles. When Superintendent Roland Toscano announced ECISD would extend spring break for an additional week and later that campuses would be closed through April 3, he also made plans to continue distributing meals.

Last week, ECISD offered curbside pickup at all campuses and handed out more than 9,000 meals, spokesman Brandon Oliver said. But the district knew that getting to campuses might be a challenge for some students’ families, he added. That’s why ECISD leaders chose areas in more remote parts of the district to bring meals closer to families.

“We know there’s folks in Elmendorf and other areas that it’s just not convenient for them to get to the school,” Oliver said. “Maybe the parents work or there’s a variety of other things going on within the family that make it inconvenient for them, so we added this measure as a matter of convenience.”

Somerset ISD also launched a mobile meal delivery service for those in need. The district asked families to sign up by calling 210-750-8955.

Districts closer to the city’s urban core are adopting the same strategy to accommodate their students’ needs.

San Antonio ISD began offering meal pickup options at comprehensive high schools last week before expanding to 27 campus locations around the district.

In an effort to extend services to the hardest-to-reach students, SAISD added meal delivery bus routes that stop at 26 apartment complexes in the areas of Cameron Elementary, Pershing Elementary, Lowell Middle School, Ball Elementary, Forbes Elementary, Baskin Elementary, and Arnold Elementary.

“We want to be continually responsive to our community – especially those who struggle with transportation – and to ensure we’re doing everything in our power to reach the ‘hard-to-reach,'” spokeswoman Vanessa Hurd said in an email.

North East ISD is offering the same service to families in the Roosevelt High School, Madison High School, Churchill High School, and LEE High School areas. In the summertime, NEISD offers a similar service, delivering meals and books to students who can’t easily make it to campuses.

Other districts are offering satellite pickup spots away from campuses. Southwest ISD will distribute meals at an apartment complex, park, and church this week, in addition to 10 elementaries.

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.