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BANDON — Don't call her the lunch lady.

For Bandon School District Food Services Supervisor Sharon Haga, it's more than just lunches.

Haga has been nourishing Bandon students for 32 years with food, a little bit of sass and a lot of love. They don't call her "Mama Sharon" for nothing. And years later, students still remember her made-from-scratch pizza, macaroni and cheese, enchiladas, cookies and cream puffs, along with her smiling face and can-do attitude. Mama Sharon takes no guff, but will drop a tray of homemade maple bars in a nano-second to help a child in need. 

This spring was especially difficult making arrangements to feed students who were sheltering at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But ever-resourceful, Haga, working long hours, has located supplies and re-purposed the cafeteria to pack both breakfasts and lunches each day to be picked up as "grab and go" by families or delivered to homes by the school's transportation department. Bus drivers with school aides each deliver meals and homework along the district's five bus routes. 

Haga and her staff of six have been packing between 450-500 meals each day to help feed the district's 655 students, including breakfasts and lunches. Then they bake and prep food for the following day, then clean and sanitize every area they've worked in.

The day doesn't end there for Haga. Due to the pandemic and temporary closure of many businesses, it's been hard to find ingredients and necessary supplies to prepare the usual menu. Lunch bags, for example, have been hard to get from the district's regular supplier, so she's gone to Coos Bay to purchase them. One delivery came with 32 of the 56 items she ordered.

Due to shortages of certain foods, Haga has had to order three weeks in advance. She's also spent hours sourcing additional cleaning and packing supplies for the district. 

"A lot of school districts are having a hard time finding certain items," Haga said. "But I'm still keeping a traditional lunch with no waivers."

Waivers are when certain items can't be found to make the meal reimburseable by the state. All of Bandon's to-go meals are offered with a protein, fruits and vegetables and milk.

By 11:30 a.m., meals are ready to be delivered or picked up. The "grab and go" meals are set up outside the cafeteria for this cheerful time of day, when food service staff can see some of the faces they miss now that the district has implemented online learning until the end of the school year. 

"Some of our parents do it just to get out of the house," Haga laughed. "They tell me, 'Sharon, you're a godsend.' Some take the kids to the beach to eat their lunches. One lady comes through and picks up for four families with three-to-four kids each."

Haga said people are appreciative of their efforts.

"I almost leave in tears a lot because of the messages on my answering machine or parents I deal with for special food needs," she said. "People are always so kind. We've gotten flowers and thank-you cards and tomato plants and Bandon Baking Co. cookies."

Haga is passionate about setting a high standard with her staff with washing, bleaching and sanitizing every working surface, door knob and handle before they leave and when they return.

"I don't know who's been here between the time I leave and come back," she said.

She's been varying the menu as usual, but has been challenged with what can be packed as to-go meals. Recently, she tried a new lunch item and hopes it was enjoyed: A Chicken Bowl, which consists of mashed potatoes, topped with corn and a hearty chicken gravy. 

Unlike many school districts, Haga has always made much of her food from scratch, which has also made her popular for catering school fundraising meals, something she donates her time to do. 

Haga also perceptively notes when a family is in need. She connects them with resources and many times has provided those extra groceries herself. 

"We have families with huge food insecurities, so my 'food angel' (shhh, it's her husband, Jeff) helps me send home eggs, bread, peanut butter and fruit," she said. "I'm hearing about people moving in with other people. I'm getting phone calls at 9:30 p.m. asking for a meal because they went shopping and their food is already almost gone.

"That's what we're here for. It doesn't matter if you're on reduced or free meals because the family dynamics have changed so much with the loss of jobs. People are just trying to figure out how to feed their family."

Haga has not only prepared hundreds of thousands, probably millions of breakfasts and lunches and catered many other meals, she also coached track for 19 years, cheerleading for 13, dance team for four and assisted with eighth-grade basketball for three years, on top of raising two sons and helping manage the family's cranberry farm. She's also helped set up and stock the cafeteria to be certified as a Red Cross evacuation shelter. 

"I think my favorite thing about my job is every day I come to work and no two days are the same, ever," she said. "And if you give me a challenge — a fire, bomb threat, power outage or whatever — I spring into action and can always think ahead." 

This summer, she and her staff will once again be serving summer meals, but this year they will be continuing the "grab and go" format, with a free sack lunch available for any child age 0-18 outside in front of the Bandon High School gym, 11:30 am.-12:30 p.m., from June 15-Aug. 14, Monday through Friday.

"We are blessed to have her on board," said Bandon Schools Superintendent Doug Ardiana. "She deeply cares and is committed to our students and community. I can't say enough about how fortunate we are to have Sharon."

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