Sunny Hills High School is closed until March 30 to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Students who receive free or reduced price lunch can pick up their to-go, bagged lunches outside the Performing Arts Center from 10 a.m. to noon this week. (Photo by Aaliyah Magana)
Sunny Hills High School

Column: Returning to a closed campus to pick up my school lunch

I anxiously waited for my 5:15 a.m. alarm, but it didn’t go off.

Instead, I heard rhythmic knocks on my bedroom door at 7:30 a.m., which motivated me to get up from my bed and let my little brother into my room. I then realized it’s my first official day of not being able to go to Sunny Hills High School for classes.

Ironically, I had taken a sleeping pill the night before to have a stress-free sleep.

By 10:30 a.m., my mom, my sisters and I were off in our car to Sunny Hills High School to pick up lunch. A March 13 Fullerton Joint Union High School District email had explained that students who qualify for free or reduced lunch were the only ones allowed to come to campus during the school day between 10 a.m. and noon to pick up their meals.

While heading toward campus, I suspected that we would walk toward the cafeteria because that’s where my friends and I would usually go to pick up our lunches on a regular school day.

I thought about seeing the empty quad, where usually even during this time of day — third period — some students from photo class would be walking around taking pictures of their friends or others would stroll toward the restroom while checking their smartphones for text messages or notifications.

I thought campus security would stop my mother’s car and ask what we were doing on campus.

But that didn’t happen.

By the time my mom drove and stopped at the baseball field drop-off area, I saw the part of the campus leading to the cafeteria entrance was closed. It was cordoned off with yellow tape.

Money, one of our campus supervisors, was walking away from instead of toward us; he noticed my sister and me and waved. No one inquired what we were doing on campus.

School officials had not notified anyone where exactly to go to get packed, to-go lunches. The only reason I ended up going to a yellow and black tent in front of the Performing Arts Center was because I spotted one of the cafeteria workers sitting under it with a styrofoam box full of brown paper bags on a table.

Had we drove to the west end entrance of campus from the Amerige Heights neighborhood, we would have had to go into the administration wing to ask one of the secretaries where to go.

When my sisters and I arrived at the tent, I saw Leslie, the other campus supervisor, talking to one of the cafeteria workers, Sherri Bennett, under the tent. A rectangular, laminated sign with yellow sunrays in the background read ”Kids and Teens / Free Meals / Come and join us today!” Underneath those words were the 10 a.m. to noon serving times for Monday through Friday of this week.

We were definitely at the right place.

“What do you think about our sign?” Bennett asked.
“What’s wrong with it?” I replied.

Bennett then went on to point out how she had heard other schools’ signs were bigger than the one that was put up outside this tent at Sunny Hills.

Because she knew the three of us, I noticed she crossed our names off a roster she had with her. I also noticed we weren’t the first to arrive as five or six other names had been crossed off.

When I got home, I opened the brown paper bag and took out the following items: reduced-fat cool ranch Doritos, apple slices, carrots, Smucker’s Uncrustables peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich, fat-free chocolate milk and a mozzarella string cheese stick.

I then had lunch with my sisters at our dining room table. My mom had a cup of coffee and ate from my bag of carrots, while my little brother drank my chocolate milk.

Eating a school lunch at home was a strange experience because I’m used to the flimsy cardboard trays and wooden lunch benches at school. The food tasted the same as it always has, but I had an empty feeling inside because I was not able to see my friends, my favorite teachers or walk through a student-filled campus.

Perhaps later this week, I can arrange for my friends and me to pick up our lunches at the same time so we can chat in person instead of online or by texting. Of course, I would have to get everyone’s parents to agree to that as well. And with the whole coronavirus pandemic going on, I doubt they’d be willing to.

While campus is closed, Sunny Hills students who receive free or reduced lunch can pick up their meals between 10 a.m. to noon outside the Performing Arts Center under a black and gold Lancers tent. (Photo by Aaliyah Magana)