Committed to making sure that Champlain Valley School District students are not hungry, school food staff have multiplied the number of meals they are produce.
At Champlain Valley Union High School, the lunchroom has gone from putting out 900 meals a day — 200 breakfasts and 700 lunches — before COVID to 3,400 meals a day now, Leo LaForce, food service director, said.
On Wednesdays, meal volume has jumped even more, as workers prepare for those students who learn remotely on Thursdays and Fridays to have sufficient sustenance.
“The lunchroom workers are heroes,” Bonnie Birdsall, CVSD director of digital communications and communications, said.
The district’s elementary schools are making meals for the students Monday through Friday, but CVU lunchroom workers have been making food to help food-insecure families get through weekends, LaForce said.
Because all of the takeout and delivery of the meals is happening at the elementary schools, some of the high school food workers have deployed there, helping portion, pack and bag the food, Scott Wagner, food service director at Allen Brook and Williston Central School said.
He said usually all of the food has been delivered to homes by 10 a.m., so breakfast may be a little late. Two days’ worth of meals are sent home on Mondays to students studying remotely the first two days of the school week. On Wednesday, meals for that day and frozen meals for the weekend are sent home. Thursday is another two days’ worth of meals for students studying remotely Thursdays and Fridays.
Most of the meals are delivered, Wagner said, but some parents come to the schools for takeout.
He said it’s been a strange time for school food workers. When the pandemic first hit, the schools were empty.
“For a long time, we were the only people in the building because everybody else was working at home,” Wagner said. “We didn’t see any kids for months.”
He said it’s been hard for his staff because people who work in school food service are “all about kids. We want to feed kids. We want to be around them. Even now while the kids are in the building, we don’t really see them.”
The food workers keep their distance to guard against the spread of the disease.
“The contribution from CVU has been awesome. Hundreds of people getting well-needed extra food district wide,” Wagner said.
“Normally, on the average each Wednesday my staff produces 1,080 breakfast meals and about 600 lunch meals or a total of almost 1,700 meals,” LaForce said.
Because of the upcoming February vacation, LaForce said they are making about 2,160 breakfast meals on Wednesdays and about 1,200 lunch meals for a total of around 3,360 meals those days. The number of meals goes up on Wednesdays because they give students meals to last through Thursday and Friday for remote learning and Saturday and Sunday of the weekend.
Although the weekend meals are frozen, they are good, Emily Downing Ponce said. Ponce has three children in the Williston Schools.
Her kids really like the food. She said the food ranges from pizza to sandwiches to salads to tacos.
It’s is a big change from the food she was served growing up in Arizona, Ponce said. The school food she got in school was mostly reheated.
“School food has come a long way. It’s truly wonderful food now,” Ponce said.
Ponce who is working as a teacher assistant and a lunchroom recess aid at Williston Central School, said the meals really help her family make ends meet.
“It’s a blessing in that we would have had more on our grocery bills,” Ponce said. Getting by financially when school was out during the summer “was a bit sketchy, but we got through that.”