By Brenda Flanagan
A typically noisy lunchtime for eighth-graders from Union Beach — well, typical except they’re eating in the school cafeteria at Keyport High.
“I miss my school a lot, but they made you feel like really welcome when we came, it was like we were supposed to be here,” said displaced student Victoria White.
“I’m very grateful for that — that somebody allowed us to come into their school and eat their lunch and use their classrooms,” said Sara Heller, who added she would rather be in her own school.
Displaced storm victims eat for free under the National School Lunch Program, and more than 200 Union Beach kids eat lunch and go to class in Keyport.
“You have opened your hearts, you’ve opened your doors to bring children in whose lives have been turned upside down,” said USDA Food & Nutrition Administrator Pat Dombrowski.
That’s important, since Superstorm Sandy wrecked so many homes and flooded schools back in Union Beach.
“It’s been hard,” said flood victim Maria McQuarrie who’s still living in a trailer next to her flood-damaged home. Her 8-year-old, Brianna, got moved to Holy Family School in Hazlet — where she also gets a free lunch.
“At least I don’t have to worry about what she has to eat. It’s good,” McQuarrie said.
To qualify for a free school lunch, the rules are simple — you have to be homeless. Sadly, a lot of these kids qualify.
Sen. Joe Kyrillos said the main objective is “to make sure kids have enough to eat and a healthy diet as well.”
It’s National Nutrition Month, and officials toured Keyport High’s cafeteria and applauded its fully stocked salad bar.
“Keyport just stepped up to the plate and accepted these students,” said Agricultural Secretary Doug Fisher.
“To know that at least for the most part — while Memorial School is being worked on — that our middle school students are here safe, sound and getting proper nutrition every single day,” said Union Beach School Superintendent Joe Annibale.
Annibale says school repairs could top $3 million. Kids won’t return to classrooms here until September. For some, that’s hard to swallow.
“We all just want to go back, but we can’t,” Heller said.