Christine Clarahan, MS, SNS, RDN, has been the director in the School City of Hammond, Department of Food and Nutrition, for 4 years. The district, in a suburb of Chicago located in Indiana, has just under 13,000 students and operated as a CEP district pre-COVID, serving breakfast to about 50 percent of students and lunch to over 80 percent. Starting April 6th the district will have about 20 percent of students in face-to-face learning and 80 percent are attending school virtually. While the district has been 100% virtual, meals have been delivered via 10 curbside sites and 8 bus delivery routes.
What was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome in the past year?
Without hesitancy, Christine says communication was the biggest challenge she faced during COVID19. Communication with 140 staff members was a top priority – but many of her staff members did not have easy access to email, several did not even own smartphones. Communication with families had to be bilingual in Spanish and English. Like her staff, many families did not have reliable access to electronic devices; they were often confused with week-to-week changes in the beginning; and sometimes understandably worried about having enough food for their families. Customer relations could be quite difficult and clear communication became even more essential, using radio and newspapers in addition to digital channels.
What achievement are you the proudest of in the past year?
Christine is justifiably proud that her department worked as team focused on the goal of feeding kids. We had a job to do and we did it without complaining. Things were hard, sometimes things went wrong, but we did the best we could. Clarahan was able to keep all staff members on the payroll and to help them know that they were all in this together with a common goal. She made certain to share all the positive feedback she received and to emphasize that self-care was essential.
Everyone, even the director, had the grace to have things go haywire. Christine related an incident where she was measuring the temperature a large of amount of milk, which she managed to spill all over her office. Even after a very thorough clean up, she can find evidence of the spill with a drop here or there. It always reminds her “not to cry over spilled milk” because, even on a very messy day, the students got fed.
What innovation have you made that you will continue using in the future?
Describing herself as “giddy as a kid,” Christine is thrilled about the refrigerated van that they will be getting to deliver meals to virtual students in the future – expanding on the bus routes they were able to do the last 12 months while students were out of the buildings. She was able to secure the funds from Chicago’s Fago de Chão and has big plans for the van even when most students have returned to in-school learning. The ‘silver lining’ vehicle to the SCH Department of Food and Nutrition will show up at summer feeding sites, back-to-school nights and other events for years to come.