Second grader Annie Aas was running down the sidewalk on Tuesday, March 17, followed closely by her older sister Sally, toward a West Fargo Public Schools bus full of free meals for students.

Annie, a Fargo child who attends Eastwood Elementary, smiled as she was given two bags: one for breakfast and a second for lunch. When asked how she felt about staying home as officials try to prevent the spread of coronavirus, she shouted, “Good!”

“She, of course, enjoys it,” said Sally, an eighth grader at Cheney Middle School. “I, of course, miss my friends, but otherwise, I would say it is a pretty nice break. It gives me time to do extra homework that I haven’t done yet.”

Annie and Sally are among the more than 110,000 students who have the week off in North Dakota after Gov. Doug Burgum ordered on Sunday, March 15, that schools across the state shut down for five days.

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“One of the first calls we got on Monday morning was, 'what can we do for meals?'” Willow Park Elementary School Principal Ethan Elhert said as he helped hand out free lunches to students.

Tuesday was the first day the district set up meal distribution locations at schools and other areas so families could get free breakfast and lunch for their children. Some drove up in vehicles and grabbed the meals through their windows, while others simply walked to the yellow school buses.

Nicole White, of West Fargo, was one of several parents who drove to Willow Park to get lunches for her three children. Two who are in preschool eat lunches at home, but the stay-at-home mother’s third child gets his lunches at school.

“This helps because I was in a panic about lunch,” she said, noting she had 12 hours to figure out how she was going to feed her children.

All of the students at Willow Park get free lunches in normal circumstances, Elhert said. It is important to provide a sense of normalcy for students during the state of emergency, he added.

“Anything that we can do to help our community out in those simple daily things is something we are all about doing,” he said. “Everybody is looking for a way to step up and help our community through this crisis.”

Youngsters receive meals on Tuesday, March 17, at Willow Park Elementary School as part of the West Fargo Public Schools program to provide free meals for children due to the COVID-19 school closure. David Samson / The Forum
Youngsters receive meals on Tuesday, March 17, at Willow Park Elementary School as part of the West Fargo Public Schools program to provide free meals for children due to the COVID-19 school closure. David Samson / The Forum

A lot of district officials came together to put lunches together for West Fargo students, Berger Elementary School Principal Brian Peterson said. About 60% of the school gets free lunches during the year, and he called it a vital service to families.

“Kids have to have their basic needs met, and food is a crucial part of that,” he said. “We want to make sure as a district that we are providing food for our families and students.”

The spread of coronavirus is scary, Sally said, but she praised the school district for providing free lunches

“It makes me realize that they actually do care about the kids,” she said. “It makes me realize that, even through tough times, they’ll always be here for us, no matter what.”

Fargo and Moorhead will offer free meals to children starting Wednesday, March 18. Both North Dakota school districts will be at distribution sites through Friday, March 20, so families can pick up breakfast and lunch. Moorhead will offer free meals as long as schools remain closed.

West Fargo food services employee DeAnna Gadberry and bus driver Sam Schultz greet students as they help distribute meals on Tuesday, March 17, at Willow Park Elementary School. David Samson / The Forum
West Fargo food services employee DeAnna Gadberry and bus driver Sam Schultz greet students as they help distribute meals on Tuesday, March 17, at Willow Park Elementary School. David Samson / The Forum

West Fargo locations

11–11:30 a.m. distribution times:

  • Buena Vista neighborhood, near the community mailboxes on Montego Avenue, Fargo

  • Berger Elementary School, 631 4th Ave. E., West Fargo

  • Petro truck stop neighborhood, 21st Avenue South and 49th Street South, Fargo

  • South Elementary School, 117 6th Ave. W., West Fargo

  • Willow Park Elementary School, 4901 15th Ave. S., Fargo

Noon-12:30 p.m. distribution times:

  • Meadow Ridge neighborhood, 23rd Street East Cul-de-sac, northeast of Meadow Ridge Parkway, West Fargo

  • Village West Dog Park, 4415 9th Ave. Circle S., Fargo

  • Rasmussen College, 4012 19th Ave. S., Fargo

  • Sheyenne High School, 800 40th Ave. E., West Fargo

Future distribution will be announced as school closure decisions are made.

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