By Fausat Rahman-Davies and Kristina Kraushaar, Rialto Unified School District Nutrition Services.
Returning from Spring Break should be an exciting time for students as the end of the year push is right in front of them. Unfortunately, Monday, March 23, 2020 marked the day the students of Rialto Unified did not return to their classroom and instead encountered unprecedented school closures that forced our 26,000 students to stay home. Our students needed their teachers, principals, friends and school lunch heroes more than ever. The big question ahead of us was how to educate and feed our kids while maintaining the new social distancing standards all while keeping our staff safe?
Our plan was to model our meal service to that of our summer feeding program. With one exception, we would be having a drive-thru service. We knew that in order to maintain the required safety standards, we would have to restructure the staff in our kitchens and tweak our production. We also knew that we did not want to stop our scratch cooking. We have very successfully continued our operations and have been cooking from scratch using fresh produce from local farmers including gardens grown by our students. We have been harvesting and tending to the gardens at all of our school sites to be sure our students hard work and care does not go to waste.
Our connection to our students and community are a priority to us. We have been utilizing social media since last year, and it has become our lifeline to maintaining relationships with our parents and community partners during this COVID-19 pandemic. Using live video feeds from our production and service lines has helped us interact and educate our families in ways we didn’t think was possible. Our families are seeing the large scale production, the quality of meals and the love that is put into making those meals for our kids.
The challenges we are facing with the social distancing has not deterred our creativity to have some fun with our families. We had a very successful Cinco de Mayo celebration with a Taco Tuesday that included a lunch box giveaway courtesy of the Dairy Council of California and Got Milk. Our PTA helped spread the word about School Lunch Hero Day and we had random drive-thru parades pop up at our service sites. We also do our best to find fun music to play and dance to, to get the incoming kids to smile as they drive through.
Being in a position to serve the children of our community fills our hearts. We understand that many people are losing their jobs and our meals are the reason their kids still get to eat. The daily “thank you” signs of gratitude on cars when they come for service and testimonials we have received makes what we do worth it. Our story doesn’t end here. We wanted to see how we could impact our community more during their time of need. We began calling and asking vendors whom we heard were giving away food to local communities. Those calls paid off. As of June 22nd we have given away the following items to our community:
- 18,000 cases of farm fresh produce
- 5,000 gallons of milk
- 10,000 cases of dry pantry goods
- 2,000 cases of pork product
- 10,000 cases of dairy products
The distribution of these items happened during our summer feeding program and on Thursday, June 18th and Friday, June 19th all nutrition supervisors and a few volunteers came out and donated their time to distribute to families in the early evening at Eisenhower High. We understand that many parents are working during our normal service hours and we wanted to still be able to help those families.
On Friday, June 19th we had a drive-thru BBQ at Kucera Middle that included a DJ, BBQ chicken with our homemade sauce, free slushes to all kids present in cars, and a special guest appearance from Clifford the Big Red Dog. We gave away USDA Farmer to Family boxes of produce, dairy and pantry goods. We had phenomenal district help from parent volunteers, Safety and Security and, our Board President, Mrs. Nancy O’Kelley. We will be continuing our drive-thru Barbecue’s every week all summer long.
We have served more than 1.6 million meals since the school closures. We are grateful to be a positive impact on our Cafeteria – Classroom – Community.