School Food on the Frontlines: It’s been a COVID year for Jody and Humboldt Unified!

Jody Buckle has been the Director of Food and Nutrition, in Humboldt (Arizona) Unified School District, for a little over two years. The district serves 5,000 students (approximately 50 percent free/reduced pre-pandemic). Their normal ADP was 57 percent at lunch and 18 percent at breakfast. When the district closed schools in March 2020, they switched to a daily pickup of meals (breakfast and lunch) for the 4th quarter. As they moved into summer, they switched to a weekly pickup with the option of daily meals for students living close to school sites. Humboldt schools were closed for the first quarter of 2020-21 school year, but participation was very low under NSLP. Nutrition services shifted gears again, partnered with transportation, did evening bus routes based on areas of highest need, and added promotions. Their 2nd quarter started with more in-school and hybrid learning but had to return to home delivery when schools shut down again during a spike in COVID cases. With ongoing Head Start meals (600 a day), weekly meals for remote learners and most students now back in school, they getting close to last year’s lunch participation numbers. Breakfast has had a substantial increase to 28 percent.  

Packed up and ready to-go

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

For Jody, financial stability was the biggest challenge of the pandemic year. In addition to financial issues created by major fluctuations in participation, Humboldt Unified also welcomed a new superintendent, new assistant superintendent and new finance director. While it is easy to say, “we just need to feed kids,” it is complicated to do in a district with limited resources and dropping fund balances. Jody focused on meeting customer needs to maximize participation. With effective use of all available waivers and by leveraging partnerships, Jody has overcome deficits and is slowly able to build back a fund balance.  

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

Jody is grateful for his employees, especially for their ability to pivot through multiple changes – sometimes with little notice. There were no layoffs in his department and, out of ten district kitchens, only one employee tested positive for COVID-19 the whole year. When safety precautions and protocols were put in place, everyone followed them. He also credits his staff for their positive relationships with students. They wanted to continue offering garden bars, allowing students to make choices, so everything is now individually wrapped and students can pick their own items. The “if you touch it, it is yours” training by staff has been a big win for fruit and vegetable consumption by students – and led to increased participation.

Garden bars help to increase participation

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

Like several other directors in this series, Jody Buckle mentioned ‘mindset’ as what he wants to carry forward. Through the experiences of the pandemic year, the Food and Nutrition employees have learned that they can change and do it successfully. Change does bring stress when people are used to doing things in routine ways – but in Humboldt Unified they have learned that changes can help make their jobs easier and more rewarding. Learning to be flexible now means that “everything is possible.”

These School Nutrition Heroes can do anything!

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