Superheroes wear capes. At the Genesee Valley Educational Partnership (GVEP), superheroes wear gloves, masks and prepare almost 9,000 meals each day for students who reside in the GLOW region and beyond.
Since March 18, teams of dedicated school lunch staff have made approximately 8,800 meals each day. This includes both breakfast and lunch, which are considered portable meals, also called “Grab and Go meals,” because they are served in containers and bags.
Debbie Naples is the Director of the Regional Food Service, a GVEP program that 21 area school districts subscribe to. Since March 18 and 19, Naples has revamped how the Regional Food Service Program normally operates, preparing and serving meals from school cafeterias.
“Due to COVID-19 school closures mandated by the governor, we had to change to an emergency feeding program. We applied for and were approved by New York state for both a Summer Seamless Operation and School Food Service Summer Program,” Naples said. “In just 48 hours, we transitioned to this new program which allowed us to provide two meals at a time to students.”
As in the start-up of any new program, the logistics of making a program work can be complicated. During the first few weeks of the school closures, food service staff were preparing and serving and or delivering meals. But as the closures were extended, many districts have used the program as a way to keep in touch with students. Not only do parents get the meals, but they also pick up schoolwork, and see teachers and principals.
The manner is which meals are delivered is different in each district. Some have a drive-through, where parents drive their cars through a bus loop and stop at a station to pick up meals and other student-related materials. Some set up different locations throughout the school district where parents can pick up meals. Using district transportation vehicles, some school districts deliver meals directly to students’ homes, especially in the case where students live in remote locations or parents might not have reliable transportation.
“This has been incredible to witness. Kids are so excited to meet their teachers and principals. The school meal program has been the connection for students to see and talk with their teachers. We’ve had principals and administrators delivering meals to students,” Naples noted.
All current food service staff members are working shifts to prepare and serve or deliver meals. However, some staff have elected to not work during this time.
“We do have some older employees who are over 70 years of age. They are considered a vulnerable population according to the state and they should not be working. So this has been a challenge to schedule,” Naples explained. “But teachers and other volunteers have come forward to give their time and that truly shows how much teachers, administrators and other district staff care about their students.”
The Grab and Go meals are simple and convenient. A breakfast might consist of a bagel or cereal or granola bars or pop tart or muffin and it is always served with a fruit and milk. Lunch usually is a sandwich (ham, turkey, bologna, peanut butter and jelly) or pizza or chicken patty sandwich and it also comes with a vegetable, a fruit and milk. Local businesses donated food and farmers gave produce.
“Our local businesses and communities have generously supported our food program. The goal we have for this program is simple, to provide meals to students. These are difficult times, especially for parents who are not working,” Naples said. “Parents are so grateful and thanking us for providing meals. They share with us how this program relieves their anxiety of how they are going to feed their children. When we hear these stories, we know that we have done something important, needed and so valuable.”
The school districts that subscribe to the Regional Food Service include Alexander, Avon, Batavia City, Byron-Bergen, Caledonia-Mumford, Dansville, Geneseo, Keshequa, Livonia, Mount Morris, Oakfield-Alabama, Pavilion, Pembroke, Perry, Warsaw, Wayland-Cohocton, Wyoming, York, Naples, Honeoye Falls-Lima, and Wheatland-Chili.
The program has various levels that districts can subscribe to including where the management functions associated with the food service program is completed by Regional Food Service Managers.