Tallassee City School's Mrs. Loria Hunter, Child Nutrition Coordinator, explains what it takes to feed children in a school system during a pandemic.
Dear Younger Self,
You won't remember much of what you have learned in college, but that's ok. You'll have all the information you need at your fingertips either by way of books or from a new invention called the internet. What you will remember will be the experiences you gain throughout your career. There will be natural disasters, staffing issues, equipment failures … the run of the mill issues you might expect. But just as you are preparing to retire, there will be a global pandemic. The challenges will be immense. It's important to remember to surround yourself with a competent cadre of professionals who share your commitment to feeding children. And…yes, it WILL take a village. Call upon the experiences you have gained and the relationships you have made through previous crises and carry on.
The coronavirus detected in the year 2019 will cause schools to close suddenly. You will be tempted to see this as bonus vacation time, but it will be anything but. You will have to pivot quickly in order to continue feeding students. A cascade of questions follows shortly thereafter. How will you feed the children with no staff? What's the best way to get meals to students? Meal delivery? Curbside pick- up? You will find it necessary to do both. Don't despair. That cadre of professionals I mentioned earlier will show up to help. They will appear as contract employees and local school board staff who feel deeply about meeting the needs of the community amid a national health emergency.
Your next challenge will be sourcing foods and supplies. Because of the pandemic, supply chain disruptions will impact all sectors of the economy, not just school foodservice. Many of the items you will need to facilitate efficient meal service will be hard to come by. These challenges will not be unique to your district. Schools across the country will be vying for the same items. Demand will be great, supply will be short, and prices will go up.
School will start in the fall per usual, but with many changes. In order to limit the spread of the disease, parents will have the option of keeping their children home for virtual learning. Others will opt for the hybrid model alternating between face to face and virtual learning. You will offer hot meals for in school dining, shelf-stable meals for students to take home for virtual days, and curbside meal pick up for households that decided to school virtually. Although these options will become necessary to stem the tide of declining participation, it will be taxing on both you and your staff. The disease will spread quickly in the school community. You will be called to fill in for staff who contract the virus and consequently will get a master class in the day-to-day operation of a school kitchen. Moreover, you will learn first-hand the physical toll the job imposes on the body.
As the pandemic drags on, you will face many difficult days. Your resolve will be tested. During those times, I strongly encourage that you visit a school. You will likely see many examples of your younger self on the other side of the serving line. It will remind you of the important service being rendered and give you just enough incentive to carry on.
You've got this,
Your Future Self