School Food on the Frontlines: It’s been a COVID year for Angie, Maria and Roseville schools!

Angie Richey, MPH, RD, SNS (Supervisor) and Maria Anderson, MS, RD, SNS (Coordinator) manage two public school districts and five joint agreement schools north of Minneapolis-St. Paul. Their district with the highest need, Roseville Area Schools, serve 7,300 students, down a few hundred from pre-pandemic levels when 47 percent of students qualified for free/reduced meals. Since March 2020 they have provided daily meal pickups at bus stops and schools curbside, plus home delivery via two trucks and a bus (a total of 919,000+ meals thru January 2021). They are just beginning to bring secondary (7-12) students back into buildings and are planning to continue meals for virtual learners as necessary.

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

Angie and Maria agree that the “mental load” of the pandemic was a big challenge. It was difficult – and scary – to keep 80 staff members safe, feeling valued and motivated. There was also an issue with monotony: Pre-COVID the district had been digging deep into scratch cooking, processing fresh veggies and introducing new items to students. With a 3-three week menu cycle and all meals being prepacked, workers were bored – handing out meals curbside was a coveted position because you could see students! Realizing the problem enabled Angie and Maria to provide hazard-pay for some positions – and to encourage changes like relaxation of the uniform policy and smaller celebrations like Hawaii Day. A little fun went a long way to improving attitudes!

Hawaii Day lifts spirits during a Minnesota winter

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

By taking an equity lens to food distribution, Roseville Area Schools were able support a food security safety net for entire community, especially for the most vulnerable families. They were able to ensure that no students fell through the cracks – and, through partnerships, like Second Harvest Heartland food bank and Minnesota Central Kitchen (employing laid-off restaurant workers), to feed families as well with Roseville Family Table Meals. Since many families in the district had little to no kitchen equipment, Angie and Maria made the decision to provide microwaveable meals rather than kits.

Fortunately, they have still been able to use local foods from farmers and producers within 300 miles of Roseville. Their meals are loaded with local carrots, green beans, radishes, apples and more (when seasonally available). They have also been able to continue a partnership with Ferndale Market to provide local turkey wieners and hot dogs. They know that supporting local growers is even more important during difficult times when many restaurant outlets have been closed. Angie and Maria’s future plans include more direct purchasing, more local grains and processed foods, and more Minnesota Thursday meals.

Microwaveable meals introduce new products and foods to Roseville families

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

Roseville Area School Nutrition Services plans to continue a renewed focus on food security and its greater impact in the lives of women – at home and in the workforce. They plan to expand their partnership with the high school-based Food Shelf Program  to help connect families with more than just food needs. Looking forward, their motto is “if our Nutrition Services Department cannot fill a gap, we will partner with those who can.”

Winter meals bundles include new offerings to combat menu fatigue

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