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La Morenita serves up free lunch for Napa students whose schools have closed
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La Morenita serves up free lunch for Napa students whose schools have closed

From the Complete coronavirus coverage from the Napa Valley Register, St. Helena Star, and The Weekly Calistogan series

Two burritos per minute. That’s how fast the workers at La Morenita Market restaurant can make a bean, cheese and rice burrito.

There’s a reason co-owner Jerry Curiel knows that statistic. The restaurant, located at 2434 Jefferson St., is giving away a free burrito lunch to any Napa County student whose school has closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. His volunteer effort supplements the Napa school district's own feeding program that starts Tuesday.

Curiel wants to make sure he can feed as many kids as possible, as fast as possible. Besides the burrito, the meal includes an apple and juice. Today's was lemonade, topped by lemons from Curiel's own garden. Lunch is served on weekdays until 3 p.m.

The idea actually came from his employees, said Curiel. When school got cancelled, many realized that so did the the school lunch that many students rely on.

Curiel hopes that offering the free lunch will relieve some stress for both students, and families, he said.

“It’s bringing a little normalcy” back to what’s been a week of news about the spreading coronavirus. “It’s the least we can do.”

Napa student Ivan Salinas came to the market for a free lunch on Monday.

“It’s good for people to help,” said Salinas. With some businesses shutting down, “maybe somebody’s not working” and can’t afford to spend extra on groceries right now, he said.

The free lunch “is great for our community,” said high school senior Giovanny Arteaga. It’s hard to go wrong with free food, he added.

His friend, David Alvarez, agreed. “Some people don’t have enough money for lunch” right now, he said. 

Mayra Barajas of Napa brought her kids to the market for lunch.

“I’m grateful La Morenita is doing this, she said. She has a big family, and knowing the kids can get a free lunch is “a great help,” she said.

Curiel said he’s monitoring supplies and reordering as needed. The free lunch should continue as long as school is out, said the market owner.

His 65 employees are ready to keep cooking.

“We have a lot of great staff,” said Curiel. “I feel blessed to have a loving community and thoughtful employees.”

The community service also resonates with Curiel personally. His own son is only a baby but “I’d hate to have to worry about being able to feed him.”

In addition to the La Morenita lunch, Napa Valley Unified School District (NVUSD) is also offering a "grab and go" lunch service starting Tuesday, March 17. Schools will be closed until mid-April. 

NVUSD students 18 and younger can receive lunch and breakfast items regardless of which school they attend, the district said in a news release. No paperwork is required, but the student must be present in order to pick up a meal. The program is in effect while schools are closed.

Meals will be available on weekdays at the following sites from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.:

- Napa High School, 2475 Jefferson St., in the parking lot in front of the school office.

- Shearer Elementary School, 1590 Elm St., Napa, at the Elm Street curb in front of the school.

- American Canyon Middle School, 300 Benton Way, in the drop-off driveway in front of the school office.

The program will be devoted only to meal pickup, and food cannot be consumed on site, said the NVUSD. 

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Business Editor

Jennifer Huffman is the business editor and a general assignment reporter for the Napa Valley Register. I cover a wide variety of topics for the newspaper. I've been with the Register since 2005.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday called for all bars, wineries, nightclubs and brewpubs to close in the nation's most populous state and urged seniors and people with chronic health conditions to isolate themselves at home in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

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