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

School Food on the Frontlines: It’s been a COVID year for Andrea and engagement with families!

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Andrea Early, MS, RD, in her 18th year as Director of School Nutrition for Harrisonburg City Public Schools. This Virginia district has 6,500 Students Pre-K through 12 grade. Pre-pandemic the district was headed toward 100 percent CEP, with an ADP around 78 percent at lunches and 70 percent at breakfast with alternative service models. During Covid19 school closures they served curbside (moving frow 2X to 1X per week in order to increase participation along with ‘door dash’ for schools delivering 500 bags via car routes. During April the district is gradually bringing students back into buildings and the department is returning to cafeteria and classroom meals.

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

Like many of her fellow directors Andrea Early, mentions employee health and safety as her biggest challenger over the past year. With many older employees and health challenges, workplace accommodations were always top of mind. Since there was no option for remote work, people had to learn how to take risks seriously, how to self-screen for symptoms, and how to make informed decisions about immunizations. Andrea is grateful to work in a district where the administration was very data-driven and provided consistent messaging to staff and families.

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

Andrea is proud that her department was instrumental in helping the entire district stay engaged with students (and their families) as much as possible. Due to the combined efforts of teachers, administrators and food service, meal curbside pickup became a big part of family connections to the district. While school nutrition had a high profile prior to the pandemic, “we were able to amplify our voice at the table.” Although participation was not what it would have been without COVID, Andrea was able to maintain staffing levels and offer an appropriate wage increase.

Teachers (in costume and not) helped to deliver meals and engage families

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

Many districts, like Harrisonburg City Schools, have developed a bigger picture of education through the COVID19 lens. As schools realize that virtual or hybrid may be better for some students, Andrea knows that her department has learned how to package and deliver meals for those students too. Large-scale, attractive, packing in bags – “we have it figured out now!”

School Food on the Frontlines: It’s been a COVID year for April Liles and her leadership style!

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April Liles, RD, SNS, has been the Child Nutrition Program Director in Waltham (Massachusetts) School District for 7 years. The district has about 5,500 students and, pre-COVID, 51 percent were eligible for free/reduced meals. They have been fully remote until two weeks ago (serving over 1 million meals) and now gearing up to have all students back in the building on April 5. This March 19, 2021, Facebook post helps to tell the year-of-COVID19 story in Waltham Public Schools: This picture was from one year ago and honestly, we didn’t know much. We didn’t know to wear masks, stay distanced or how this pandemic would change the world forever. What we did know is – WE MUST FEED THE CHILDREN! And thus – we did just that. Over and over again each week, into the summer and into this entire school year. It is what we have always done and so we moved forward together into the unknown.

March 19, 2020: 1st emergency meal service BEFORE masks, PPE & social distancing

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

As a nutrition director, April has always been focused on food and people. Her biggest COVID19 challenge was people piece – the 70 employees of her department who had not signed up to be frontline, essential ‘heroes.’ She says that her pandemic experience has been, and still is, transformative in terms of leadership style – life-changing in both professional and personal ways. April has learned how to step back, and let employees move to the front, perform and do what they have trained to do: “I am so proud and humbled by my team’s readiness to just do the work.” 

The WPS Food and Nutrition Team – in the times BEFORE Masks and Social Distancing

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

Noting that you are nothing without your team, April is proud of being able to maintain staffing and keeping entire nutrition Food and Nutrition Services on the payroll. They were able to feed the families of the city well because of their teamwork. And they have amped up their sanitation protocols in response to pandemic precautions, involving teamwork with building custodians to be “impeccably clean and sanitized.”

Teamwork is also what allowed WPS to maintain the integrity of meals delivered as curbside kits rather than on trays in cozy cafeterias. This also required letting go – no more colorful salad bars and delightful food art – and a new focus on “Build Your Own” instructions for items like parfaits and trendy tortilla hacks. April and her RDN partner Haylee Dussault continue to create home-run meal kits by introducing other on-trend items like Korean Bibimbap.

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

April is eager to expand their in-school offerings with carts and kiosks in the hallways and enhanced deliveries to classrooms. Her staff is energized to try new things and building administrators are now wanting to sit down and talk about it. Bulk meals outside school day have become a reality – for weekend and vacation meals as well as virtual learners. Of course, she definitely plans to keep the new super-sanitation procedures in place as well.

Weekly Meal Kit: Combination of prepared meals and DIY items