The Lamoille South Unified Union school district food services had to change almost overnight when classes shifted to at-home learning in March.
“Like most people, we had to make a lot of changes; both how we serve and what we serve, to try to accommodate all the different people in a safe way,” said Jeffrey Brynn, food service director.
Brynn has served in the district for about 10 years, following a career in restaurants.
Elementary schools were turned into curbside meal distribution centers and families were provided pre-packed breakfasts and lunches to last their students several days, he said.
“Everybody has their own way of reacting to (the pandemic) so from the food service side we had to be very aware of that and try to continue to do our job while reassuring people that they were safe,” he recalled.
Each day, nutrition services listened to the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and rolled with those changes.
Frequent hand washing was already commonplace, as were hairnets and gloves. Kitchen staff quickly learned to adjust to mask wearing.
The staff saw a demand greater than Brynn had anticipated.
“From the family standpoint, this was one less thing to have to worry about,” he said.
The meals started off simply: cold sandwiches and the like. Then the district added microwaveable meal options.
“For the most part, families were pretty grateful,” Brynn said. “There was definitely some positive appreciation in there.”
The district operated on the summer food service program model through August, offering meals free of charge to kids under the age of 18.
Now, with kids back in school, food service workers have had to adjust to a new, new normal.
Brynn and his staff have worked to keep up meal production for those students who are learning 100 percent remotely, while also providing sustenance to in-school learners.
They, too, have breakfast carts, in an area just beyond where student health screenings occur.
Elementary and middle school lunches are delivered to students in their classrooms. High schoolers are sent to the cafeteria in small groups to grab theirs.
The staff has worked to create a variety of healthy meals for students, starting with cold meal choices and slowly adding hot meals, all with the goal of working toward additional options.
“We want to keep the options fresh. We don’t want them to get bored with the same things every day,” Brynn said.
With the district continuing free meals under the U.S.D.A.’s summer meal service, there’s no need to cash students out, cutting down on the amount of time they spend in the cafeteria. According to Brynn, it takes students about 15-20 seconds to grab their food.
And while he doesn’t get to see a ton of students these days, it’s good to have them back in the halls.
“It’s very nice to have people, in general, back in school,” Brynn said. “I think the teachers are happy. I think a lot of the students are even happy to be back.”