HAVERHILL — As soon as 3-year-old Gavin Nolan rolls out of bed each morning, he asks his dad if they are going to pick up grab-and-go meals at Hunking School.
“Every day Gavin wakes up and wants to go get the school lunch,” said his father, Brad Nolan of Bradford.
It’s something Gavin and his father have been doing for the past six weeks and plan to continue all summer long as Haverhill public schools distribute free “grab-and-go” breakfasts and lunches weekdays at six locations.
The program that provides meals to go began after schools closed due to the coronavirus crisis. The program will continue through the summer so children across Haverhill are assured of having regular meals while parents juggle work commitments and other responsibilities.
Gavin loves to pick up lunch for himself and his 10-year-old brother Ryan Heartigan, who is entering fifth grade at Bradford Elementary School. Ryan prefers to stay home in front of his computer.
“As soon as we get home, Gavin sits on the couch and takes everything out of his bag so see what’s inside,” his father said, adding that he and his wife, Vanessa Clark, both work. That means picking up lunch for their two sons removes the pressure of having to prepare meals. There’s another plus: The boys love the school meals.
“Gavin is the youngest person picking up lunch,” said Hunking cafeteria worker Michelle Lalumiere. “It’s the highlight of his day to come here.”
An average of about 100 children receive free breakfast and lunch bags each day at Hunking School, and hundreds more pick up meals at other locations in Haverhill. The children include 14-year-old Mari Machado, a Hunking graduate who plans to attend Whittier Regional High this fall.
Mari, who lives close to Hunking School, rides her bicycle almost every day to pick up her grab-and-go breakfast and lunch.
“I like the fact they’re giving out free meals to help kids,” she said. “I like the food they provide to us.”
Lalumiere, along with fellow cafeteria workers Jean Rotondi and Tina Mailhot, are stationed at Hunking School’s main entrance three days a week to give out the meals. Other cafeteria workers are there the other two days.
The “lunch ladies,” as they are known, distribute an average of 100 or more bagged meals each day. They stuff the bags with breakfast items such as cereal, apple slices, an English muffin or bagel, and a small carton of milk; and lunch items such as cold sandwiches, lasagna in sealed containers and fresh fruit.
All the food items are cooked or assembled in the kitchen at Haverhill High School, the women said.
“On Fridays, we usually distribute about 600 bags,” Lalumiere said. “We give them six milks, three lunches and three breakfasts, so they can eat all weekend.”
Grab-and-go meals are available for pickup weekdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. for all city children ages 1 to 18 regardless of the school they attend. The meals can be picked up at the following locations: Hunking School, 480 S. Main St., Whittier Middle School, 292 Concord St.; Consentino School, 685 Washington St.; Nettle School, 150 Boardman St.; the Haverhill YMCA, 81 Winter St.; and the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Haverhill, 55 Emerson St.