Students in Lewiston excitedly waited at bus stops earlier this week, but instead of loading onto the vehicles to go to school, they were given free meals.

The Lewiston School District, which has been offering grab-and-go meals at three locations, expanded its meal services to include breakfast and lunch deliveries at 60 stops on five bus routes.

On Thursday, the first day of deliveries, 276 meals were delivered by bus, while 651 meals were distributed at the district’s stationary meal sites at Sacajawea and Jenifer junior high schools, and McGhee Elementary School.

Teachers hoping to see some of their students rode the buses, which were decorated with inspirational signs, as they helped hand out meals.

“There’s an emotional side to this for our staff. They miss their kids a lot,” Superintendent Bob Donaldson said. “We have them doing remote education, which I think they are doing a really good job at ... but there is still the human side. I think this is an opportunity for some of them to still feel that interaction with the kids.”

It’s the first time the district has delivered breakfast and lunch to its students by bus. The service will continue through the state’s mandated “soft closure” of schools, which is currently scheduled to last until at least April 20.

Students across the state aren’t allowed to be inside of classrooms, but districts are still expected to deliver remote learning opportunities and provide essential services, like meals.

On Thursday, two teachers from Whitman Elementary School helped deliver the meals for the district’s route covering the downtown, Normal Hill and North Lewiston areas.

“For me, as a teacher, I’m so excited that meals are being provided to our kids just to make sure that their needs are being met,” said Amy Arlint, a third-grade teacher at Whitman.

Arlint said delivering the food by bus makes it easier for some students and their families who do not have transportation to get to the three grab-and-go sites.

She also said it helps keep relationships strong at a time when the students are experiencing a lot of change.

“The hard part about this time is we don’t get to see our kids,” she said. “I think being able to see someone that’s familiar and approachable ... it helps build that relationship, and they are excited to see someone from our school.”

Andrew Cole, a special education instructor at Whitman, said delivering the meals helps show the kids that their teachers are thinking about them.

“Everyone wants someone to care for you, and that’s part of the reason we wanted to be on this route, so we can see our kids and be able to connect with them,” Cole said.

Abigail Blankenship, a bus driver of about one year, said she was excited to be able to help deliver the important service.

“We are letting (the kids) know that we are here to take care of their needs and to give some encouragement to them that hopefully soon, we’ll return back to normal,” Blankenship said.

Donaldson said the meal deliveries wouldn’t be possible without the staff’s careful planning and dedication to their students.

On Thursday, Donaldson followed one of the routes in a district vehicle, to make sure they didn’t run out of food. When supplies got low, he headed back to Whitman Elementary School to pick up more meals to bring to the bus to be distributed.

“It just hit at my heartstrings,” Donaldson said. “I just can’t say enough about the commitment and compassion people have at all levels. Whether it’s our drivers, our instructional assistants, our custodians, maintenance, the teachers doing that work at home, or the building administrators, it’s just huge to see it all come together to support our kids and our families.”

Other districts, like Pullman, Moscow, Mountain View and Kamiah, are also delivering meals to their students.

More information about the Lewiston routes can be found at www.lewistonschools.net.

Tomtas may be contacted at jtomtas@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2294. Follow her on Twitter @jtomtas.

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