Finding solutions: School bus drivers deliver meals to students in Pendergast District

School bus
Posted at 5:52 AM, Feb 26, 2021

PHOENIX — It’s second nature now, but one year ago, Jimmy Anderson never imagined he’d be loading up his school bus with food.

“But I’m glad that we are,” Anderson said. “Because the kids that we have they depend on that, they need that.”

Once the boxes are stored inside, it’s off to the neighborhoods where nearly every meal is hand-delivered.

“I have five stops,” Anderson said. “We service 150 kids on this route.”

It’s a different kind of route, one that school bus drivers like Anderson have driven every day since schools shut down in March.

“We sat around and we decided that it would be best if we could bring meals to people, as well as them having them come to us,” said Jamie Triolo, Food Service Director for the Pendergast School District.

The Pendergast Elementary School District serves about 6,000 meals a day at 12 schools in Avondale, Glendale, and West Phoenix. That’s 1.7 million meals since the start of the pandemic.

They also have pickup locations, like at Desert Horizon School. ABC15 was there as Evelyn Gonzalez picked up meals for her six children, something she says would be difficult to go without.

"This makes my life easier," she said.

Pendergast Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Cruz says 70% of their student population is Latino, that’s the same number of their population relying on free or reduced lunch.

“The challenges that we’ve faced have been the normal challenges that I think any organization faces right now, you need healthy staff you know you have some of those pieces you have to make sure do our bus stop locations make sense are we in the right spot to make sure that we can feed as many young people as possible?” Cruz said.

The Pendergast Elementary School District is just one of many across the Valley finding solutions when it comes to making sure students still receive meals while learning remotely. In October, the U.S. Department of Agriculture extended flexibilities to allow free meals to continue to be available to all children throughout the 2020-2021 school year.