School Food on the Frontlines: It’s been a COVID year for Caitlin and her community!

Caitlin Lazarski, MS, RD, SNS, has been the Nutrition Director at Newburgh Enlarged City School District (70 miles north of New York City) for 7 years. The district has approximately 12,000 students, serving 7,500 breakfasts and 8,000 lunches under CEP prior to COVID. Providing meals for hybrid learners in classrooms and curbside delivery for all virtual students, the department served 250,000 meals in February 2021.

What was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome in the past year?

Like many of her colleagues, Caitlin Lazarski says that being able to change quickly is an ongoing challenge. While the initial months of the pandemic necessitated many changes in service models, the department is now seeing weekly shifts in participation as students return to classes – depending on weather and now daylight savings time. She is very thankful for a distributor that understands her need for flexibility, where an open line of communication is literally a lifeline!

What achievement are you the proudest of in the past year?

Lazarski is very proud of – and grateful for – newly found connections with her community. She has always emphasized the department’s connections with students (“we are the only school staff members who see every student, every day‘). During COVID school nutrition has been able to touch more families and more parts of the community. Last spring they tried their regular summer feeding distribution which did not work. Participation dropped dramatically, leading to the layoff of all foodservice staff. As a “hometown girl” (both Caitlin and her husband work and grew up in the district), she started to do more outreach, explaining the benefits of emergency meals for everyone. This did work and she has seen a ground swell of support along with increasing participation.

School Breakfast, specifically breakfast after the bell, has been a focus in Newburgh for several years (pre-pandemic breakfast and lunch participation was almost equal). Caitlin was not about to give up on breakfast excellence even with multiple service models. Breakfast in Classroom continued for in-school learners and Goldback meal kits (building on a district-wide brand) included fresh strawberries and yogurt for DIY smoothies. Clearly Newburgh School Meals knows how to Score Big with School Breakfast under any circumstances!

Goldback 10-Day Break Menu includes Heat&Eat and Kit Items

What innovation have you made that you will continue using in the future?

While she acknowledges that it is not really an innovation, Caitlin hopes that her staff will be able to hold onto a new-found sense of teamwork. One ‘silver lining’ of COVID is that it changed how the staff feels about departmental leadership – they realized that Caitlin was with them, that she was fighting for them, protecting them and that she really cared about them. Working together in all sorts of challenging new situations, especially variable curbside conditions, also reinforced that everyone has each other’s backs.

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