LAWRENCE — The 300 grab ‘n go meals the Lawrence YMCA distributes weekdays were grabbed and gone in 90 minutes.
“How many in your family? How many children?” Cathy Redard asks from under a blue tent on the Lawrence Street sidewalk.
This is how the Y, closed the past month due to coronavirus crowd restrictions, is getting food to some of the 160 children who previously were fed in its preschool and afterschool programs.
But the bagged lunches are available to anyone who walks or drives up.
Meanwhile, grab ‘n go efforts to feed hungry children are underway elsewhere in the city of 80,000, including at Lawrence public schools and the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence, also shuttered during the viral outbreak.
Lawrence has lots of kids: a whopping 13,500 children in Lawrence Public Schools alone. All of them can get free breakfast and lunch during the school year.
In normal times, Redard directs the Merrimack Valley YMCA childcare program.
March 18, five days after the Y suspended operations, the distribution of bagged meals began.
“We recognized a void,” said Frank Kenneally, CEO and president of the Merrimack Valley YMCA.
Every weekday from 3 to 5 p.m., rain or shine, the food gets distributed below the concrete pillars of the four-story building.
The Y also operates a food pantry Thursdays. Pantry demand has risen four-fold in the viral crisis, from 200 to 800 bags, Redard said.
In either case the collection means follow distancing rules. Motorists park curbside. Walk-ups form a line – standing next to orange cones spaced 6 feet apart.
The grab ‘n go food line sometimes stretches to the end of the block and around the corner. Each bag typically includes a foil-wrapped sandwich – today they are ham and cheese – an apple, raisins, granola bar and carton of milk.
Shortly after 4 p.m. a mother steps to the table. Three children wait for her across the street by the Campagnone Common. Next, two elderly women take their turn.
Recipients are unfailingly grateful, Redard says.
The Lawrence school food program serves grab ‘n go breakfasts and lunches every weekday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at six sites: The Parthum, Guilmette, Frost, Arlington, Lawrence High and the Salvation Army (250 Haverhill St.), said school spokesman Christopher Markuns.