School Food on the Frontlines: It’s been a COVID year for Brian, on a mission at St. Labre Mission!

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Brian S. Jones has been the Food Service Director at St. Labre Indian School (a private Catholic School) in Montana for five years. The 100% CEP district enrolls 600 students from the Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations in three buildings, each with its own kitchen. Pre-COVID the program was preparing breakfast and lunch meals for all students. Brian and his 26 staff members have a well-deserved reputation for excellence: St. Labre meals are made from scratch, everything from the baking of all breads and rolls to cutting and slicing fruits and vegetables for salad bars and lines. Brian also been known as the “bison man” in SNA circles because the school raises, processes and serves their own bison meat.

When schools closed in March and students were scattered throughout a sparsely inhabited area without reliable transportation, Brian knew he had to do something different to keep feeding his customers. He had always been thinking about packaging systems in the back of his mind and knew this was the time to purchase them. The administration agreed to buy three packaging machines, one for each kitchen. Later a donor read about their success with packaged meals and donated funds for a fourth machine to increase capacity. The program made, packaged and delivered over 900 meals per day – the same high quality, house-made meals that they served before the pandemic, like salads and parfaits. The schools are gradually returning to in-person learning with meals in the classroom and some older students living full-time in the dormitory.  

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

To achieve Brian’s vision of a quality end-product, the entire staff had to be re-trained. Basically school kitchens with tray lines had to be turned into production kitchens with assembly lines. Cooks needed training on adapted recipes and the packaging crew needed to learn the ins-and-outs of packaging machines. Due to supply chain and storage issues (challenges in the best of times), the district also had to go to shelf stable milk.

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

Brian doesn’t hesitate for a moment in giving credit where credit is due: He is incredibly proud of his staff. He recognizes that much of their work satisfaction comes from daily interactions with students around nourishing food. They were able to take that energy and passion for mostly personal relationships and turn it into the more routine jobs of packing and delivery food. Because transportation routes had be reconfigured and buses could not go unto certain areas, food services employees also became food van drivers – a sometimes treacherous situation due to weather and the potential for COVID exposure.

Employees have embraced production meals

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

Sadly the reservations served by St. Labre School have been hard hit by the pandemic with high rates of infection and deaths. It is the tradition of the tribes to serve large funeral feasts for extended families and friends, often at events for up to 150 people. The multiple packaging machines have been getting lots of use for catering these events (at cost) – sometimes up to six in one week.

Production Meals in St. Labre Indian School

School Food on the Frontlines: It’s been a COVID year for Hannah in Kansas City, MISSOURI!

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Hannah Thornburgh RD/LD, has been a Supervisor/Dietitian in Kansas City Public Schools (KSPS), Kansas City, Missouri, for 16 months. The 100 percent CEP district has about 15,000 enrolled students. Before pandemic school closures, ADP in the district was approximately 80 percent for lunch and 50 percent for breakfast. When KSPS schools closed in March, the district started serving curbside meal packs (one to three days at a time), then closed completely for a month to develop a service model that could serve as many students as possible. Meals on the Bus was created with the transportation department and a goal of having every student no more than a mile from a school meal distribution stop – 190 stops throughout the city. Breakfast and lunch were distributed daily plus weekend meals on Friday (and on days when weather was problematic). Although participation was lower than their traditional in-school service, Meals on the Bus (along with targeted home deliveries) were eventually serving about 75 of usual district meals.

Meals on the Bus for Fall semester 2020

On March 8, 2021, KCPS students started returning to school gradually using a two-day hybrid model. In-school meals include BIC, grab-n-go, and Café in the Classroom (for lunch). Hybrid learners have take-home meals on Tuesday and Friday, on Wednesday curbside bulk meals are distributed to remote learners. Meals in the Classroom (MIC) have gone smoothly because BIC had been the usual mode of service in 15 of 34 districts schools.

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

Imagine being a new-to-school-nutrition menu planner during the constantly changing environment of waivers and safety precautions from March 2020 through today. That has been Hannah Thornburgh’s year of COVID-19. Coming to school nutrition from a non-profit education position in Operation Food Search in St. Louis, Hannah not only had to learn menu patterns and components, but she also had to learn how to change them with an evolving set of waivers – sometimes on as weekly basis – almost like a Rubik’s cube of menus! Hannah also had to develop new supervision and employee management skills during a time when staff assignments had the potential to be life-or-death situations. Perhaps her toughest challenge was how to keep a positive attitude in new city under lockdown conditions!

Menu for hybrid high school meals, April 2021

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

Although her pandemic year has been plenty stressful, Hannah is grateful to be working in a department where food security and equity are top of mind. Knowing that you are a community lifeline means making “how to reach more people” has been part of every departmental discussion leading directly to initiatives like Meals on the Bus. She is also focused on growing the department’s Facebook page – another way to get the word out by engaging families, district leaders and other stakeholders.

EQUITY is even on their t-shirts

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

Meals on the Bus will continue as a part of KSPS meal service – likely for summer feeding. It has become an essential part of equity in their district a way to serve the best possible meals to families that need them. Hannah also plans to increase social media – perhaps with a nutrition education channel on YouTube.

School Food on the Frontlines: It’s been a COVID year for Chad and the Decorah Community!

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Chad Elliott, has been the Nutrition Director and Culinary Specialist in Decorah Community School District for 10 years. The district has an enrollment of 1,600 students (approximately 20 percent) in a town of about 6,000 in rural northeast Iowa. When school were closed, the Decorah team packed 5 lunches and 5 breakfasts for pick up and delivery. The nutrition department also delivered meals to families in need when bus drivers were not available. Decorah schools have been back in session full-time since January 2021 with a few families still picking up five day meal packs for remote learners. Participation has not yet returned to pre-COVID levels and Chad is hopeful that they will be able to get back to full-service nutrition next year.

Homemade breakfast pizza with juice and yogurt

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

According to Chad, the availability of product was the biggest challenge for their department over the past year. When they needed non-perishable, pre-portioned meal components, they could not get them from their main purveyor. Disposable items for packing food items were also in short supply and unpredictable when ordered. Fortunately northeast Iowa is a mecca for local food and the Decorah Community School District (DCSD) is fortunate to have locally produced foods on their menus every day. When products were unavailable from their usual distributor, local farmers and producers provided items through the Iowa Food Hub that the school could use in grab and go bags. These items included cheese curds, yogurt, meat stick, and a variety of vegetables.

Local farmers and producers provide products for bulk meals in 2020

DCSD had extensive school gardens and grow houses that provided produce for school meals in years past. Production from these programs suffered during COVID but Chad and his staff are eagerly looking forward to onions, Bibb lettuce, beet greens and many herbs this spring. DCSD has been famous for many scratch-cooked items; these herb bread and rolls served on April 8, 2021, shows that the tradition continues.

Bread and rolls with parsley and thyme

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

I cannot express how proud I am of our nutrition staff,” says Chad Elliott. When fear of the unknown was rampant, the nutrition employees stepped up and selflessly changed their work schedules and hours so meals could get prepared and handed out to families in need. When schools shut down for remote learning, nutrition staff remained flexible and continued to build meals each day for deliveries to students, often using their personal vehicles each day due to the lack of available bus drivers. Nutrition department employees have clearly embraced one of Chad’s favorite Martin Luther King’s quotes: The time is always right to do what’s right.

Decorah nutrition employees

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

Before COVID-19, Decorah had done minimal cross-training in the district’s six kitchens. Over the past year, they increased their cross-training by necessity – in order to maintain service throughout the district. Cross training is now something that they use to open up staff to new strategies, positions and ways to get things done. It has given employees a new perspective and appreciation for the work being done in other kitchens.

School Food on the Frontlines: It’s been a COVID year for Elizabeth and the Carson City community!

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Elizabeth Snyder, DTR, has been Director of Nutrition, in Carson City (Nevada) School District for just over 2 years. Elizabeth is a district employee who works closely with the Chartwells K12 Director of Dining Services and Executive Chef. The district has enrollment of 7,900 students with about 55 percent eligible for free/reduced price meals prior to the COVID19 school closures in March 2020. Pre-pandemic the district has an ADP of 53 percent at lunch and 33 percent at breakfast. Nevada schools were closed on March 15th and by March 17th Carson City had opened five strategically located sites for daily meals plus a weekend pack, adding 3 bus routes on March 19th. During summer feeding hot meals were served at the Boys and Girls Club – and Elizabeth developed four contingency plans for the opening of school year 2020-21. None of these plans worked but Nutrition Services staff have learned to cope with constant change and focused on providing meals to those students who need it the most. Currently 25 percent of students do fully remote learning and the rest follow a hybrid schedule – with multiple types of meal service to accommodate all students.

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

Personally Elizabeth found the challenge was not knowing what to expect. She likes to have a plan and found it challenging to let go of plans A, B, C and D – and then move on to something that she had not even considered.

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

The silver lining of the Elizabeth’s pandemic is that it showed her what an incredible team she has and what a giving community exists in Carson City. The dedicated team of school lunch heroes worked tirelessly to safely prep, cook, pack and distribute meals to the children who needed them. Her managers have done an amazing job with the pandemic ‘pivot’ and are “on top of everything.” Right now they are operating three different service models out of all (10) school sites. Elizabeth is very grateful for how everyone – teachers, staff, parents, volunteers, and community members – came together and focused on keeping kids fed at schools and other sites. Several community groups and businesses provided donations, including franchises like Del Taco, Pizza Factory and Dutch Brothers Coffee.

Carson City families appreciate Nutrition Services

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

Elizabeth had two answers to this question: First, she notes that her department has gotten “really good at grab-n-go options.” They have new equipment including insulated bags so that they can do a better job of to-go meals in the future. She specifically mentioned enhanced meals for field trips – beyond the usual sandwich in a brown bag. Another silver lining during COVID-19 has been connections with the district’s media person, Dan Davis. This has helped Elizabeth get the word(s) out about nutrition services, especially the availability of free meals. Families were confused as waivers changed over time and social media was very helpful in clarifying the situation as it evolved.

District Facebook page shares Nutrition Services info with families

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

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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!

School Food on the Frontlines: It’s been a COVID year for Doug, Heather and Burlington’s Team!

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Doug Davis, SNS, Food Service Director, and Heather Torrey, MS, RD, SNS, Assistant Director, have been working together at Burlington School Food Project for the past four school years. The district has 4,000 enrolled students with about 50 percent being eligible for free/reduced meals pre-pandemic, when their ADP was 65 percent at both breakfast and lunch. Even though both Heather and Doug were out of state when COVID-19 hit, within 48 hours of school closures they were serving meals using a completely new service model. The forty department employees were divided into pods of 10 and they started serving one bag with one day of meals curbside for approximately 500 students, plus meals for the homeless housed in local hotels (3 meals a day, 7 days per week). Both Doug and Heather admit that things were very tough in the beginning and they were able to make it through because of extraordinary assistance from other school employees, like the paraprofessionals who organized and staffed food distribution points. They also deeply appreciate the support for the Vermont state child nutrition agency and their food distributor Reinhart Foodservice LLC.

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

Doug and Heather are quick to acknowledge the operational challenges that were top-of-mind, especially in the first weeks of school closures. Like most other districts, they struggled with staffing issues, supply chain disruptions, and transportation concerns. However they also stress the underlying emotional challenges as well. Even though everyone was focused on the need to feed children, there was anxiety about a deadly disease with lots of unknowns for those who did not have an option to work remotely. Heather admits that she worried about “being the one to take out my whole team.”

Meal Kit distribution during a Vermont winter requires the right vehicles and equipment

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

The successes of the Burlington School Food Project over the past year demonstrate how a team came together, got work done and built a unique model to feed children. After a participation dip in the summer, the Burlington team is now distributing 20,000 quality meals per week in meal kits containing 7 breakfasts, 7 lunches, 7 suppers, and 7 snacks. There is a weekly vegetarian option, often based on foods reflecting the diversity of Burlington (where over 40 languages are spoken in a high school of 1,000 students). 

Although there were more unknowns than knowns over the year, Heather and Doug are not surprised about what the team was able to do. The Burlington School Food Project has worked hard to be integrated into the education process of the district and into sustainable agriculture in Vermont. In March 2021, they partnered with the local Couching Lion Maple Farm and distributed a Harvest of the Month maple syrup jug in every meal kit. The farm is owned by a teacher in the district, making more connections between education, local agriculture, and delicious meals for children. Moving forward, Burlington School Food Project plans more direct contact with Vermont farmers and food producers. Since they know that the Meal Box model will continue through September, they have started calling local farmers and food producers with a heads up about the volume the district will need so they can plan their planting and harvest schedule. “Leveraging buying power to support the local economy and provide high quality foods to our families has been — and will continue to be a core focus for our program.”

Couching Lion Maple Syrup, Vermont Harvest of the Month

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

Rather than a procedure or a food product, the Burlington School Food Project will take a mindset into the future. As Doug Davis said, “I will never look at a problem or situation and think we cannot do that. I now know that there is nothing that we cannot do. We can meet any challenge.

Heather has a slightly different take: “I went back to my dietetics basics with the ADIME model to constantly assess what we are doing and how we can make it better. We started curbside meal service with one model, saw that we were not reaching as many folks as it should, and we switched it up. Now we’re in the M/E phase of our Family Meal Kits and make subtle tweaks each week to better meet the needs of our community.”

Classic and Vegetarian Meal Kits

School Food on the Frontlines: It’s been a COVID year for Tina Farmer #CCSDfam #CCSDserves!

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Tina Farmer, MBA, has been Director of School Nutrition in Cherokee County School District for 5 years. The district has over 42,000 enrolled students, with about 29 percent eligible for free/reduced-meals pre-pandemic, when they were serving approximately 22,000 lunches per day. On Friday, March 13, 2020,Cherokee County Superintendent of Schools requested that all departments, including School Nutrition, begin to plan for school closures. Tina and her staff immediately went to a curbside pickup model on Mondays, 5 days of meals per pack for all students who were completely digital at that point.

Cherokee was one of the first districts in GA (and probably the US) to return to in-school learning with 30,000 students (a quarter of students chose to continue learning remotely) on August 3, 2020. At this point half of students were eating in cafeterias, half were eating in the classroom, and curbside pickup was still available for remote learners.

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

Tina Farmer has a relentless can-do mindset but even she admits that the coping with multiple service models, often short staffed due to mandated precautionary quarantines, was a serious challenge. About 10% of Cherokee County students are still enrolled in digital learning and an average of 500 meals are picked up curbside. Under the ‘umbrella’ challenge of serving in several different locations and in several different ways are the issues of staffing, scheduling and menuing in 39 different school locations. A product or menu item that is designed for a cafeteria tray may not work well – or at all – for delivery to a classroom or bagged for a to-go situation.

Salads, Dean Rusk Middle School, August 2020

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

Although there were plenty of challenges, Tina attributes the success of her program during COVID-19 to the perseverance of the Cherokee County School Nutrition staff – noting that they were able to pivot whenever the situation required. During the past year, the department often needed to pivot at a moment’s notice – as in ‘schools will shut down tomorrow’ so meals need to be prepared and available for curbside pick-up. Tina is not at all surprised that her staff members were able to rise to any situation, she is just very grateful!

In Cherokee County, the school district and the community have come together to meet student needs. The hashtags #CCSDfam and #CCSDserves accurately describe the mindset and spirit of everyone involved in education. They have also underscored the need for and value of school meals. In a January 2021 newsletter, Superintendent Hightower let families know how he values the work of School Nutrition staff with this message:

From Superintendent Hightower to district families

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

Feeding 40,000 students during a pandemic necessitated many changes – sometimes with little notice. This meant that communication between nutrition site managers and families also needed to be upgraded. Tina credits the district communications team with helping her department create an efficient ordering system for meal pick and believes that the new electronic communication channels will enhance their ability to provide summer meals more efficiently.

School Food on the Frontlines: It’s been a COVID year for Dawndrea and her one woman show!

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Dawndrea Daly, has been the Foodservice Coordinator in Platte County #2 School District (Wyoming) for 6 years. The district is located in the very rural town of Guernsey, about two hours north of Cheyenne. It serves 244 students, with a pre-pandemic free/reduced rate of 44 percent. Before school closed in March, the school was providing 160 to 180 lunches (depending on the menu) and 80 breakfasts. Currently, with all students back in school, Daly reports that they are serving 160 breakfasts and 160 to 180 lunches (again depending on the menu).

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

When COVID-19 closed all schools in Wyoming in March 2020, Dawndrea Daly became at “one-woman show” at Guernsey High School. While other foodservice employees were reassigned by the superintendent, she kept the kitchen lights on – and she kept on serving breakfast and lunches to any student who came to pick them up. Daly admits that the “first week was insane” but she knew that it had to be done, so she did it. From March through August 2020, she offered curbside pickup by car, bicycle and wagon – and she served a grand total of 16,210 meals. She ordered the food (which became a major challenge during supply chain shortages), prepared the meals and packaged the meals by herself. She had help with curbside pickup from administration – but all the rest was up to her.

Ready to distribute meals to hungry students in Guernsey, Wyoming

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

Dawndrea Daly is not one to brag about her achievements. She says that she was just doing her job and making sure that kids were fed – and fed well. She did want the community to know that school meals are important to children and families. The gratitude and appreciation that she has received from making over 16,000 meals is beyond anything she ever expected. In fact, she received statewide recognition as a Wyoming hero when she was invited by Governor Gordon and his wife Jennie to attend and lead the Pledge of Allegiance for the Governor’s virtual Prayer Breakfast in March 2021. Dawndrea was proud to represent all school foodservice professionals at the breakfast and honored to meet state leaders. Once the weather is better, she hopes to ride her Harley back to Cheyenne and to visit with the Wyoming’s First Lady again.

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

For the past several years. Daly has gone above and beyond in her role as Foodservice Coordinator, applying for many successful grants. She received a Salad Bars for Schools grant from the Chef Ann Foundation, a USDA Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Grant and a Geodome for students to grow fresh vegetables (which will be back up and running as soon as COVID precautions allow).

Current March 2021 Salad Bar

Right now, she might be running the only salad bar in Wyoming – with a plexiglass front and a dedicated staff member who builds a salad from items chosen by each student. It’s not at all surprising that someone who made thousands of meals by herself would find a way to safely continue using a salad bar to benefit her student customers. Hey COVID, I think you met your match in Guernsey, Wyoming!

School Food on the Frontlines: It’s been a COVID year for Laura and the superheros in Wamego!

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Laura Fails started working in USD 320, Wamego, Kansas, in 2005, becoming Food Service Director in 2008. The district serves about 1,600 students, with approximately 25 percent qualifying for free/reduced-priced meals. Pre-pandemic the district served    1,000 to 1,200 lunches and 350 breakfasts. In early March 2021, Laura was at LAC in DC with several other Kansas directors and the state Child Nutrition director. Returning to Wamego and a busy weekend of planning, her department began feeding students in the park, one day after the school district decided to close. They prepared meals for 500 students, feeding 175 children the first day; participation grew and grew as waivers came in, and soon they were serving over 900 children a day. In September 2020, the district returned to in-person learning with the option of remote learning. Currently all breakfasts and some lunches are served in the classroom with delivery to about 45 remote-learning students.

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

Laura’s biggest challenge was keeping so many details organized and tied together. Keeping her staff motivated, encouraged and supported required a tremendous amount of energy especially with constant pivoting. Any cheerleader will tell you that the job requires a lot of energy, especially when routines, schedules and everything else is constantly changing. Laura reports that it helped her to realize that there was more than just one way to do things and to witness the amazing team work that developed among those working together. At some points during COVID19, she had just as just as many volunteers as paid workers, including former students, parents and community folks.

Kiwanis volunteers Roland and Ruth Miller for help distributing remote meals

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

Covid has made a real difference in how the community sees and supports school nutrition programs in Wamego – so much so that the Food Service Department received the Wamego Chamber of Commerce Impact Award for 2020. She is gratified that local groups and agencies now understand the value of school meals and are open to partnerships and collaborations. A relationship with the local library has grown into a literary programs with books, make-and-take recipes and nutrition videos. It started as small seed and has grown into something that will benefit the whole community.

USD 320 Food Services recognized with Chamber of Commerce Impact Award

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

Being able to serve breakfast in the classroom (BIC) has been a major innovation in USD 320 and Laura is planning to continue the program in all schools. Prior to the pandemic there had been pushback, especially from teachers, but now many school leaders can see how well it can works with their own eyes – and how much it can benefit academic performance. Before 2020 the school district had never been a sponsor for summer feeding. Now the program is theirs – and they were able to expand offerings to small outlying communities and delivery routes last summer. Laura hopes to maintain the expanded programs to serve more children in the mornings and over summer break.

Breakfast carts encourage students to grab-n-go to their classroom

School Food on the Frontlines: It’s been a COVID year for Whitney and PPS Nutrition’s audacious goal!

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Whitney Ellersick, MS, RDN, has been Senior Director, Nutrition Services, at Portland (Oregon) Public Schools since 2017. The district serves just shy of 50,000 students; pre-pandemic, 13 of their neighborhood schools (30 percent) were CEP, this school year the number has risen to 50 CEP schools. Since March 2020, Portland Public Schools has only been serving about 1/3 of their usual meals, still over 800,000 meals. Starting April 1, 2021, they will gradually bring students back to school for in-person instruction but no students will be in school long enough to eat in the building. Whitney and her team will continue to distribute to-go meals throughout the district – with features like local, farm-to-school tamales from Tortilleria Y Tienda De Leon.

Cheese and Green Chili Tamales from Tortilleria Y Tienda Leon

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

PPS Nutrition Team has had an audacious goal – “to be the most successful urban school district, to educate palates, inspire culinary curiosity, and nourish the health of the community through school meals.” Since 1995 PPS Nutrition Services has allowed students to have unlimited access to fruits and vegetables on salad bars, offered in a bulk, self-service style. PPS has also taken advantage of Portland’s unique food culture to collaborate with local producers and purveyors. Not wanting COVID19 to derail their vision and partnerships, the Nutrition Services team has worked hard to give students (and their families) the same experience with foods and recipes that they have worked so hard to incorporate over the past two decades.

Root Vegetables

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

Like all other districts PPS had to ‘pivot’ rapidly in response to Covid19. Just before school closures in March 2020, PPS pulled all salad bar foods behind the service line and served the students to prevent high touch points. Since school closed, PPS Nutrition Services had to find creative ways of packaging fresh fruits and vegetables for curbside, grab-and-go, and home meal delivery services. They continued to offer a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables wherever possible. With help from grants, they purchased bagging machines so school teams can bag bulk, raw vegetables. As you see in this PowerPoint thank you from a student their efforts have been appreciated.

A Thank You to Food Deliverers from student Josh (shared with permission)

Whitney challenged her team to do more, from serving 7 days of breakfasts and lunches to adding supper and increasing to 7 days of supper meals. They also added a weekly fresh fruit or vegetable through their USDA Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program grants. During distance learning, nutrition education handouts and resources are available to families on the Nutrition Services website.

Rainbow Carrots

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

Rather than a specific innovation in procedures or meals, Whitney mentions the collaboration and communication with other PPS departments that developed during COVID19. She hopes that Nutrition Services can build upon their pandemic experiences to work more closely with their colleagues throughout the district. School food has been on the PPS frontlines for more than a year and there dedication has been noticed by administrators, educators, families and students.

Cara Cara Oranges: Fruit of the Week