Director Janis Campbell-Aikens, MBA, RDN, SNS, CD, and Coordinator Ben Atkinson, MS, RDN, CD, have worked together in Auburn, Washington, School District Child Nutrition Services for 2 years. The district has about 16,500 students with a pre-pandemic free/reduced rate of 52 percent and daily average of 5,000 breakfasts and 9,000 lunches. When Washington State schools closed in March, Auburn started serving grab-n-go meals curbside and very quickly switched to bus route deliveries in partnership with their transportation department. From March 2020 to March 2021 their department served 1,635,239 meals, including meals at every school break which was new for them. Elementary students, who are currently in school buildings 2.5 hours per day, pick up a cold breakfast and hot lunch on their way home, with some schools receiving Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program snacks as well. Secondary students, who are in buildings for a full day 2 times per week, receive breakfast and a hot lunch during their lunch break. Additionally, there are curbside pick up locations at each school, as well as 8 mobile distribution routes serving about 50 stops throughout the school district.
What was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome in the past year?
Janis and Ben agreed that their biggest concern was keeping their employees COVID-19 safe with precautions unclear and/or changing from week to week. And they succeeded! While there were COVID cases, they never spread within the department. They are very grateful for the ongoing communication and regular guidance updates from the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).
What achievement are you the proudest of in the past year?
This March Auburn School District honored all 129 ASD Child Nutrition staff members as the Classified Employees of the Year. As noted in the district’s announcement: Staff members in this department are true frontline heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic and have been since the first days of the pandemic. A few examples:
- They were serving meals to students the week after schools closed. This was during a time when very little was known about COVID-19 and they showed up to prepare and serve meals to thousands of children.
- Staff volunteered to work on spring break, Thanksgiving break, winter break and mid-winter break to make sure no children in Auburn go without food.
- They worked all summer serving meals throughout Auburn, Algona & Pacific.
- They are reimagining in-person school meals so we are sure to follow all of the health and safety requirements AND make sure students have good nutrition.
- The CN office staff has worked to support families and assist with resources.
Janis and Ben noted that between Child Nutrition and Transportation they knew the needs of each and every kid – and they were able to make certain that they got the food they needed.
What innovation have you made that you will continue using in the future?
Even the midst of the pandemic Ben has continued to focus on innovations in packaging and testing new recipes. These have included fresh, new flavors like Bahn Mi and Cuban sandwiches as well as the cultural flavors that reflect the meals that families enjoy at home, including chana masala and beef lo mein. They hope to continue and grow both of these innovation channels in the future.