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


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.