“We’ve always known we were essential, but now the world knows, too.
School nutrition staff rarely get recognition or credit. Between spending hours on their feet, dealing with tired kids and spilt milk, they face many challenges every day that some would find intolerable. School nutrition staff are resilient, reliable, and incredibly hard working. They are also essential.
According to Feeding America, 14.3 million American households were food insecure in 2018, with limited or uncertain access to enough food. Every day, school meals provide food security for children across the country. In my small town of Vernon, Connecticut, about 53% of the student body receives free or reduced-price meals. The school nutrition staff show up for these kids every day with a smile on their face knowing for some, school breakfast and lunch might be the only meals they eat that day.
When talk began to circulate about closing schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19, my first thought was about feeding the kids. With so many kids already receiving free or reduced-price meals, how are families going to cope if they lose their income AND their school meals? Even as teachers and administrators scrambled to determine the best way to keep kids engaged and learning from home, our district decided providing meals to students during the school closure was paramount. I immediately got to work planning a menu, rescuing perishable food from closed schools, and organizing a staff schedule. The school nutrition staff were at it again, continuing to feed kids despite the growing concerns over COVID-19.
We are all nervous. A lot of the school nutrition staff are over 60, have pre-exiting conditions, or are caring for someone with pre-existing conditions. For me, I am most worried for my 6-month old daughter, Ellie. Thankfully, infants do not seem to be a high risk population, but no one wants to test those waters. My husband is working from home with Ellie every day, while I go out into the germ-infested world to make sure our community still has access to school meals. We are nervous, but we know school meals are essential.
With school being out, I wondered what I could do to bring back some of the happiness the kids feel at school while in the lunchroom, with their favorite teacher, or playing at recess. It was late one night while I was rocking Ellie back to sleep when I remembered how my mom used to put little notes in my lunchbox, and how happy I was to read them. The next morning, I got to work writing ‘positivity bananas’ for the lunch bags. Sayings like, ‘your teacher misses you, do 30 silly jumping jacks, or fruit is brain fuel,’ went onto the bananas along with hearts and smiley faces. As soon as the bananas were served, we immediately got calls and Facebook messages thanking us for our hard work and how important the meals were for their families.
Serving school meals during this time of crisis provides some source of normalcy for the kids. I hope the positivity bananas made them smile. I think we all need those positivity bananas right now.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Elizabeth Fisher, RDN, of Vernon, CT, and on behalf of SNACT, the School Nutrition Association of Connecticut. Elizabeth is the Director of Food & Nutrition Services for Vernon Public Schools.
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