March 16: What it’s like to be allowed to return to campus to pick up my school lunch

LIVING UNDER THE CORONAVIRUS CRISIS

This is the first of a series of columns from The Accolade staff about their various experiences during the school closure because of the coronavirus pandemic. If you would like to submit some of your experiences, please email us at theaccoladeshhs@gmail.com.

I anxiously waited for my 5:15 a.m. alarm, but it didn’t go off.

Instead, I heard rhythmic knocks on my bedroom door at 7:30 a.m, which motivated me to get up from my bed and let my little, 3-year-old half-brother into my room. I then realized it’s my first official day of not being able to go to Sunny Hills High School for classes.

Ironically, I had taken a sleeping hormone the night before to have a stress-free sleep.

By 10:30 a.m., my mom, my sisters and I were off in our car to Sunny Hills High School to pick up our lunch. A March 13 Fullerton Joint Union High School District email had explained that students who qualify for free or reduced lunch were the only ones allowed to come to campus during the school day between 10 a.m. and noon two pm to pick up their meals.

While heading toward campus, I suspected that we would walk toward the cafeteria because that’s where my friends and I would usually go to pick up our lunches on a regular school day.

I thought about seeing the empty quad, where usually even during this time of day — third period — some students from photo class would be walking around taking pictures of their friends or others would stroll toward the restroom while checking their smartphones for text messages or notifications.

I thought campus security would stop my mother’s car and ask what we were doing on campus.

But that didn’t happen.

By the time my mom drove and stopped at the baseball field dropoff area, I saw the part of the campus leading to the cafeteria entrance was closed. It was cordoned off with yellow tape.

Money, one of our campus supervisors, was walking away from instead of toward us; he noticed my sister and me and waved. No one inquired what we were doing on campus.

School officials had not notified anyone where exactly to go to get packed, to-go lunches. The only reason I ended up going to a yellow and black tent in front of the Performing Arts Center was because I spotted one of the cafeteria workers sitting under it with a styrofoam box full of brown paper bags on a table. Had we drove to the west end entrance of campus from Amerige Heights, we would have had to go into the administration wing to ask one of the secretaries where to go.

When my sisters and I arrived at the tent, I saw Leslie, the other campus supervisor, talking to one of the cafeteria workers, Sherri Bennett, under the tent. A rectangular, laminated sign with yellow sunrays in the background read: ”Kids and Teens / Free Meals (in red) / Come and join us today!” Underneath those words were the 10 a.m. to noon serving times for Monday through Friday of this week.

We were definitely at the right place.

“What do you think about our sign?” Bennett asked.
“What’s wrong with it?” I replied.

Bennett then went on to point out how she had heard other schools’ signs were bigger than the one that was put up outside this tent at Sunny Hills.

Because she knew the three of us, I noticed she crossed our names off a roster she had with her; I also noticed we weren’t the first to arrive as five or six other names had been crossed off.

When I got home, I opened the brown paper bag and took out the following items: reduced-fat cool ranch Doritos, apple slices, carrots, Smucker’s Uncrustables peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich, fat-free chocolate milk and a mozzarella string cheese stick.

I then had lunch with my sisters at our dining room table. My mom had a cup of coffee and ate from my bag of carrots, while my little brother drank my chocolate milk and ate a sandwich from one of my sisters’ bags.

Eating a school lunch at home was a strange experience because I’m used to the flimsy cardboard trays and wooden lunch benches at school. The food tasted the same as it always has, but I had an empty feeling inside because I was not able to see my friends, my favorite teachers or walk through a student-filled campus.

Perhaps later this week, I can arrange for my friends and me to pick up our lunches at the same time so we can chat in person instead of online or by texting. Of course, I would have to get everyone’s parents to agree to that as well. And with the whole coronavirus crisis going on, I doubt they’d cooperate.

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