Student meal delivery service delivers more than just food

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Photo by Buthaina Asamarai

Columbia Heights Public Schools has provided students with free breakfast and lunch for the 2020-2021 school year. This program gives students in need 10 easy-to-prepare and fulling meals every week.

Many programs in the public school system have had to undergo major changes or have flat out been canceled this year due to COVID-19. One in particular that has been undervalued during the pandemic is having breakfast and lunch delivery offered to every student daily. Columbia Heights Public Schools (CHPS) has worked to make sure a safely run lunch program continues their service to the community. 

Free delivery of food and drink to the participants’ doorstep every week is available for all students in the district under the age of 18. In the lunches, there is a bag with fruit, juices, milks, healthy snacks and a separate bag with lunch items, some staples being mini corn dogs and chicken wings, just to name a couple. 

The program is mostly managed by district Food Services Manager Maggie Maggio. She started looking at the best possibilities at the beginning of the summer and planned for any option as the school had not yet decided on its learning model at the time. Over the summer, a lunch pickup program was implemented, which supplied the staff with a starting point for how a program like this could be run. They decided on the delivery/sign-up program as it stayed within regulations from the U.S. department of agriculture and allowed for smaller amounts of food and time waste.

As it stands, the lunch delivery program has a few major benefits, the largest being the ability to get food out in a safe and efficient manner to students of CHPS while staying within state and federal health and safety guidelines. One key benefit is that by having this program be widespread, it allows for more people, mainly cooks, to keep their jobs while schools have largely gone virtual.  

Just like so many aspects of school in the times of COVID, there have been some significant challenges within the program. One of the biggest has been the constant changing of government rules and regulations. With directives coming shortly before the beginning of school in September, the program had to adapt and be able to get word out about a functioning and safe protocol in a short amount of time. Another challenge has been the availability of food; many large vendors that are used by schools continue to face shortages. This is primarily due to many schools needing the same easy to pack and serve food in large quantities. Hand in hand with this is the challenge of menu variety.

“Typically in a ‘normal’ year our main menu line repeats every four weeks, but with meal delivery we repeat every two weeks,” Maggio said. “[With] limited cooking facilities at home, we wanted to make sure all meals could be cooked in the microwave since it’s a relatively safe option for students.”

On top of all these challenges, having to work out kinks in a brand new program that depended upon so many people was a battle. It not only was the work of the food department, but also the transportation and district administration had to work together too in order for all components of the program to properly function.

Overall, the lunch program has been a big challenge for the school to get together while rolling with the punches in government rule changes. One factor that hasn’t changed over the entirety of COVID in the food department is safety. The food team takes extra precaution every time they package lunches to ensure everyone involved stays safe and healthy while being able to participate in the lunch program. In  fact, a lunch staff that puts their all into providing free and safe lunches to all CHPS students is one of the only things that has remained constant during these chaotic times.