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


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

Hunger Does Not Take a Summer Vacation

When Michelle Barber (aka Dairy Mom RD) asked me to be part of an American Dairy Association Northeast campaign called #ThisIsWhyWeDairy for #JuneDairyMonth, I said yes immediately. This is a #sponsored post, but make no mistake: It is about one of the most important summer nutrition and education issues in the US. Here is why:


FREE Summer Meals are designed to fill the nutrition gaps for the millions of hungry children who are eligible for free- and reduced-priced school meals. However, according to the Food Research and Action Center[o]nly one in seven children who ate a free or reduced-price school lunch during the 2016-2017 school year were reached by the Summer Nutrition Programs in July 2017. This means that millions of children are missing out on key nutrients they need to keep growing strong all summer long. Without nutritious fuel for their brains, they may also be susceptible to the ‘summer slide,’ the recognized decrease in student’s academic skill level when school is out.


Joey loves summer meals in Cherokee County, Georgia

This post from Cherokee County School Nutrition shows one way to make sure kids have access to FREE summer nutrition. Joey IS smart and adorable and he can enjoy free breakfast and lunches in one of 14 sites in Cherokee County School District. However, some children can’t #BeLikeJoey because they do not have a way to get to the school, church, park, or community center where FREE meals are served. The NYC Department of Education is tackling the problem with on-trend meals, colorful graphics, smartphone apps and food trucks to serve FREE breakfast and lunches at hundreds of schools, pools, parks and libraries.

NYC Summer Meals

New York City Goes ALL OUT for Summer Meals

What do Summer Meals look like across the US? In New York City, they serve bagels, egg sandwiches, organic cereal and New York yogurt for breakfast — with deli sandwiches, cold wraps, kid-friendly kale salads, New York apples and plenty of fresh fruits and veggies for lunch. Every FREE meal comes with refreshing milk from New York dairy farms. In Fairfax (left below) and Loudon (right below) County Schools outside Washington, DC, offerings are similar — tasty, healthy and packed with the nutrients that kids need, like calcium, vitamin D and potassium. Remember these meals are FREE to everyone 2 through 18 — no registration, no documentation, no paperwork!

VA Fairfax LunchVA LCPS Lunch

Many Summer Meal sites serve much more than a FREE breakfast, lunch or supper. They also offer fun activities focused on literacy, math and other skills so that children can eat, play AND learn! It’s simple to learn about FREE Summer Meals in any location in the US: Just text 877-877 with a zip code OR address/city/state. Want to increase the meals you serve with additional activities? Check out the FREE toolkit available from Sacramento (CA) Summer Meal Collaborative and United Way at!CA Toolkit