One after the other, drivers pulled up the hilly terrain of The Alameda onto school grounds.

A woman wearing a leopard-dotted headband and Baltimore City College sweatshirt emerged from the entrance near the football stadium. She stood in front of the orange door with a posted sign: “ALL FOOD DELIVERIES HERE.”

“DoorDash?” she shouted from the door, carrying a walkie talkie.

“Jacob?” One driver responded, giving the name of one of the students who had ordered the food he was delivering.

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She shook her head, taking a McDonald’s bag out of his hands. Another driver gave her a Wendy’s order as a third car approached the parking lot. She walked back inside and locked up the orders in a closet until students claimed them.

When the students line up at lunchtime to retrieve their food, a staffer checks their order on their phone before handling them their food. It became a practice after some students started memorizing their classmates’ orders and claiming them as their own.

Within 20 minutes, nine drivers showed up on this particular day, with orders from McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Chick-fil-A. Fridays are not very busy, said the staffer, who did not give her last name because she did not have permission to talk to The Baltimore Banner.

DoorDash orders have become a common part of the lunch scene at City College. Part of the practice comes out of the pandemic when parents would order their kids’ lunch when they were stuck at home. City College is one of a few Baltimore schools believed to allow such deliveries, which have raised some concerns from school officials. Some think the orders are disruptive, put a burden on administrative staff and challenge visitor policies.

Students say DoorDash gives them better food options than the unappealing choices served by the school. While district official Elizabeth Marchetta estimates that over half of Baltimore students eat cafeteria food, disliking the school lunch is a de facto rite of passage for high schoolers. Generations have wrinkled their nose at cardboard pizza and rubbery pasta. Never mind if a school has a closed-campus policy or if there are no takeouts nearby. Students will find a way to get a tastier lunch.

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School officials also worry about the nutritional value in meal deliveries. In a January meeting with some school board commissioners, Anne Rosenthal from the district’s Food and Nutrition Services Department presented a proposed revision to the wellness policy, which dictates standards for physical health education, mental health services and nutrition. The policy, which must comply with federal child nutrition law, sets tight regulations on how much sugar, sodium and fat can be present in food, which doesn’t always match students’ palates.

A regular Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich, for example, contains 1460 mg of sodium, not counting dipping sauces — a similar breaded chicken filet sandwich from the district has 825.98 mg.

Snacks and meals sold outside of the National School Lunch Program, as from vending machines and school-run bakeries, also need to meet federal nutritional requirements. Entrees need to have less than 480 mg of sodium and the sugar quantity should be less than 35% of the food’s total weight. But there’s no federal or state guidance on meal deliveries, Rosenthal said. They fall into a gray area.

The most feedback Rosenthal has received from school leaders is that the deliveries create a burden on administrative staff, who often ended up handling the orders. Teachers said it’s disrupting class time as students go pick up their meals. Traffic patterns and safety are a concern as the cars drive on and off campus.

As the district revises its policies, officials are still unsure the best approach to tackle meal deliveries. One option, Rosenthal said, is to have a criteria that will provide some guidance to school leaders, so that each administration can cater to its unique campus and body. Another is to be more restrictive across the board.

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Students’ feedback has been mixed. Rosenthal says some students with the General Assembly of the Associated Student Congress of Baltimore City understand it can be disruptive, but they also want more food choices.

Sammy Brown, a student at City College, orders DoorDash one or two times per week. She typically goes for Chick-fil-A or Hiphop Fish & Chicken, sometimes Dunkin’ Donuts.

If Brown tries for the lunch made at school, she might eye the fruit, maybe go for the pre-made salad or the cold-cut sandwiches. But she doesn’t touch whatever hot meal is offered that day — not the “pale white” macaroni and cheese and certainly not the teriyaki chicken, which she doesn’t think looks very appealing. If she is not that hungry, she just doesn’t eat at all.

Brown doesn’t know what is it about this year, but she notices more students at City College choosing DoorDash lunches, spending hundreds of dollars since the school year started. She isn’t sure if the school lunch has gotten worse — the food never looked appetizing to her — but she says the district should take it as motivation to make the food better so people are less inclined to order out. But even if they do that, they should still allow DoorDash.

Students usually order food during second period so it arrives in time for lunch, sophomore Theo Simms said. Simms, who usually eats leftovers or a ham and cheese sandwich from home, sees as many as 15 people lining up during the underclassmen lunch every day to pick up their deliveries — and they usually order not just for themselves, but for their friends, too.

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“It’s a lot, more than you would think,” he said. He attributes it to some students being more picky than others, adding he doesn’t think the food is that bad.

DoorDash did not answer questions about how many orders come from the school address.

“We appreciate that many teachers, administrators, and parents use DoorDash during the busy school day,” the company said in a statement. “However, our terms of service require customers to be of legal age. We’re always eager to hear ways we can improve our platform, and welcome feedback through our 24/7 Support team.”

As a DoorDash driver handed an order to the Baltimore City College staffer, she suggested that he checked if their next order was also to the school before leaving. The man drove away without saying a word.

A few minutes later, he pulled up again. She started to laugh.

“I told you,” she said.