MURRAY — Individually bagged lunches, gallons of milk instead of the usual cartons and meal pick-ups are only some examples of why 2020 was a very different year for nutrition services staff at Calloway County and Murray schools.
Pat Lane, is the director of nutrition programs and food services for Calloway County Schools. She said during the fall semester, her team sent out 110,643 breakfast meals, 125,131 lunch meals and 70,535 supper meals.
“I am so appreciative of all the staff who have worked so hard to put these meals out to the community,” Lane said. “I can’t say enough about the volunteers that have helped us, and we’ve been blessed with the transportation department, some of that staff came over and helped us in our kitchen. Without all of this, we wouldn’t have got this done.”
Murray Independent School District Food Services Director April Adams said her team sent out around 100,000 meals to students.
“We’ve had to be a little creative ... my cooks have put a lot of love into everything they do, to make sure the kids are being fed,” she said.
Both school districts are serving these meals through the Summer Food Service program, which was extended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in late August and then later extended through the end of June 2021.
When the pandemic arrived in the spring of 2020, Lane said they had little time to prepare a plan for how to get students meals.
“We had two days to come up with a plan,” Lane said. “It worked out; we learned as we went through it. But, having the summer to get ready for the start up of this school year, we had more time to see what other districts were doing.”
She said the result was a program that turned their kitchens partially into production kitchens, packaging and serving meals for at-home learners alongside daily meals for students in school.
“We invested in a seal machine,” Lane said. “So now we can take the food we normally serve, put it in this container, seal it and put it in the freezer, and then we can send those home for the week’s meals where the parents can serve them daily.”
Lane said all meals must be served prepackaged, whether students are learning at-home or in-school.
“We switched from doing milk in a carton, to doing gallons and half-gallons of milk,” Lane said. “I never thought I would be serving a gallon of milk to a family. But we heard complaints from these families that they had nowhere to put these cartons of milk. So we figured out what it took for a seven-day supply and we came up with a formula for serving so many gallons and half-gallons to the family per child.”
Both directors said they encountered supply-chain issues.
“There have been some food ordering issues of products that would be easy to pack and send home with students,” Adams said. “The supply can’t meet the demand. Because districts all over western Kentucky, we’re trying to order the same food: prepackaged items and our vendor can’t keep up with the demand.”
Lane said these supply issues are part of a situation that is ever-changing.
“Because every other district in western Kentucky is using the same vendor that I am and our menus are pretty well the same,” she said. “So everyone is fighting for that whole grain bread, everyone is fighting for that hamburger patty, and then we’re told there’s none available because that company has shutdown, due to COVID or another reason.”
Lane said not much will change from the fall going into the spring semester, including COVID safety measures.
“Our first priority is our students,” she said. “Every necessary procedure is in place to keep them safe, as well as our staff, without our staff we couldn’t do these meals. The first thing you think is ‘OK, how is this going to fit in with COVID? Can we do this and still keep people safe?’”
Adams said she has all of the faith in the world in her staff, whom she said “will help the semester go smoothly and get the kids fed.”
“We’ve learned how to make adjustments at a minute’s notice, create a whole new menu if we have to, send meals home instead of serving them at school...we will keep on doing what we’ve been doing,” Adams said.
Lane said she is feeling overwhelmed at the moment, and she is in the process of determining how many employees will be returning for the spring semester. She said anyone interested in volunteering can apply by contacting her at the board office or by contacting the food services manager of their child’s school.
“It’s been challenging, but again I cannot say how thankful I am for the staff that does this everyday,” Lane said. “They are just an inspiration to everybody.”