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This Colorado foundation helps schools with crisis response. Now, the crisis is lunch.

A worker prepares sack lunches in the Adams 12 district.
Screenshot “I Love U Guys” Foundation Video

Sometimes you need to reunite a parent with a child, and sometimes you need to unite a child with their next meal.

A Colorado organization that for years has worked on school safety issues has taken that expertise and, in cooperation with Adams 12 Five Star Schools in suburban Denver, developed a method for handing out meals and learning materials during coronavirus with a goal of minimizing the risk of transmission for both front-line workers and families.

Founded by the Keyes family after Emily Keyes was shot and killed at Platte Canyon High School in 2006, Colorado’s “I Love U Guys” Foundation has worked to help schools around the country improve their crisis response. Executive Director John-Michael Keyes said that after he got done “weeping salty tears of despair” over widespread school closures, he realized his organization had a role to play.

“We’re not experts about any of this, but we talk to the experts,” he said.

From those conversations and from practice and revisions and more practice in the Adams 12 district, the “I Love U Guys” Foundation developed what they’re calling the “standard distribution method.” It grew from the foundation’s “standard reunification method,” a way of reconnecting parents and children in a safe and orderly way after an incident at a school, which might mean something mundane like a gas leak or something life-altering like a school shooting.

Hallmarks of the standard reunification method are clearly defined roles and jobs — one person greets a parent and checks their ID, a runner carries the information to another adult who is with the children at a defined gathering spot — and a designated person who oversees the whole operation.

“We’re using the same roles and the same training that we use with another one of our programs, which is the standard reunification method,” Keyes said. “We’re reunifying a student with a laptop. Or with their lunch. One district in Texas reunified band instruments with band members.”

There are still greeters and runners. The people who prepare the food remain separate from the people who take it outside, and those workers and volunteers in turn remain separate from the people who greet families and pass food through car windows. Constant disinfection is built into every step. If one person gets sick or is exposed to someone who might be sick, it doesn’t require the entire operation to shut down or the entire team to quarantine.

In Colorado and around the country, school-based meal distribution sites have shut down after a worker tested positive or was exposed to someone with COVID-19. Food service workers have even died of the disease. The stress of potential exposure takes a toll on everyone. Like many districts, Adams 12 is rotating the job of meal preparation and distribution among different teams so that people get a break.

It’s emotionally draining to be that person on the front lines constantly,” said Pat Hamilton, chief operating officer for the Adams 12 district and a board member of the “I Love U Guys” Foundation.

The district has often served as a laboratory for ideas developed there. It took some time to fully realize what social distancing required in the context of food preparation and distribution.

Two videos taken at Adams 12 schools show the evolution of the method over several weeks. In the second video, everyone is masked, and staffers are much further apart. Hamilton said the method has continued to evolve.

Materials related to the standard distribution method are available for free on the foundation’s website. The foundation doesn’t track how many districts are using it. It is aware of districts in Texas, New York, and Nebraska that have adopted it.

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