covid food program

Garrett Ross juggles delivering a meal for a child and a phone call on Monday at Bridge View Center, one of 16 food distribution locations established as a response to the closure of Iowa schools.

OTTUMWA — No one really knew what to expect Monday as the first rounds of meal deliveries went out for Wapello County children.

Garrett Ross walked over to the waiting car with two sack meals. He had done a quick head count as it rolled up. The window rolled down, Ross confirmed the number of children in the car, and handed the bags over. In 15 seconds, the car was pulling away from Bridge View Center.

That’s how Ross hoped things would work: quick transfers with minimal contact. A chance to ensure children still get meals to eat while limiting opportunities for people to spread germs.

“That’s really what we’re here to try to do. We’re spread across 16 locations,” Ross said. “Keep the kids in the car. All we have to do is see the kiddos.”

Monday’s effort included about 1,000 meals for students in the Ottumwa and Cardinal school districts at sites around the county. It was a program that didn’t exist a week ago. As with so many other things, swiftly changing events made it necessary.

Calling the program a shot in the dark is accurate, Ross said. It’s not clear how many people will eventually need it, nor is it known whether the current distribution plan is the right one. It’s a starting point, though, a place to begin the work.

The speed with which the program came together was remarkable. Getting different governmental bodies to work together usually requires a long series of discussions, often at a leisurely pace. That kind of time wasn’t a luxury officials could afford. Parents knew their children would have spring break last week. They could plan for that.

But the longer break — at least four weeks, possibly more — wasn’t something many had braced themselves for. It required an immediate response.

“Not only was it a mad scramble to get all the parties together and get the logistics worked out, but also with the state,” Ross said.

Distributions of meals are scheduled twice per day, and for only 10 minutes per location. Monday will bring some clarity to the scale of the need. By the end of the week, things should be settling into a pattern. The approach may be need to be tweaked, but the basics will be established.

“After we get through today we’ll have a much better idea of how many we’ll need,” Ross said. That goes for volunteers, too.

It’s uncharted territory. But Ross was hopeful. As another car pulled up, a couple more bags went out.

It’s a place to start.

Matt Milner can be reached at and followed on Twitter @mwmilner

Matt Milner can be reached at and followed on Twitter @mwmilner


Managing Editor

Matt Milner currently serves as the Courier's Managing Editor. Milner is a trained weather spotter and is usually outside if there are storms. He joined the Courier in 2002.

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