When school cafeterias shut down this spring, it only took a few days for the Powell school district to start up a program that provided thousands of free breakfasts and lunches to children each …
When school cafeterias shut down this spring, it only took a few days for the Powell school district to start up a program that provided thousands of free breakfasts and lunches to children each week.
A total of 71,362 meals were served over 53 days from March through the end of May. That’s an average of 1,346 meals each day.
“This was all possible because of the dedication of the food service staff and their belief that they serve an integral part in each child’s day by providing nutritional meals so they can learn,” said Mary Jo Lewis, coordinator of business services for Park County School District No. 1.
All local children under the age of 18 could receive a free breakfast and lunch each day, even if they didn’t attend Powell schools. The meals met required nutritional standards.
“We made the decision before we even started that we weren’t going to give just one slice of bread, which is the allowable serving of whole grain, but instead make sandwiches for the lunch meals,” Lewis said. “These still needed to be meals that kids would want to eat, not just filler.”
In addition to the nutritional food and drinks included in regular meals, the district also continued utilizing the Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Program and included one of the following every day: raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, grapes, limes/lemons, sugar snap peas, grape tomatoes, cauliflower and broccoli.
“The fresh fruit and vegetables were still a vital ingredient in our meals we provided daily,” Lewis said.
Jill Queen, the district’s food service director, continued to work closely with vendors, such as Sysco, Franz Bakery and Meadow Gold Dairy, to make sure everything was fresh and the district could get the food it needed for the free meals.
“Supply and demand was a challenge to stay in front of,” Queen said.
Lewis heard from families that the meals were something their kids looked forward to each day.
“It gave kids a sense of normalcy when they could have a school meal even though they weren’t going to their school building,” she said. “The fact that the entire family of children could have a meal — even if they weren’t school age — up to age 18 was fun and exciting for the little ones.”
For families who were unable to pick up meals during the 9-11 a.m. time frame, volunteers delivered meals and “were a big part of the success of our program,” Lewis said.
“Some were picking up to 75 meals and delivering them to families,” she said.
The district was able to follow all USDA requirements regarding confidentiality and make sure meals were actually going to families and not just being redistributed to adults, Lewis said.
For the final five weeks, volunteers made Friday deliveries for Saturday meals.
“Saturday meals were provided to those that completed a survey that indicated they had a need and agreed to the information sharing of their names and addresses to make it all work,” Lewis said.
Steve Janes, transportation supervisor, and Christy Schwartz, transportation administrative assistant, used the district’s routing software to build efficient delivery routes and maps for volunteers to find the homes.
Throughout the closure, a team of dedicated staff and volunteers made the meals and deliveries possible each week.
Food service staff members Katie Griffin, Tolena Wempen, Schelley Argento, Lena Jones and Savannah Layland prepared the sack meals. Queen ordered food and supplies and jumped in wherever necessary to make it run smoothly. Lorraine Griffith helped at the beginning and then shifted to other temporary work in the district on grounds crew.
Rhonda Stevens and Suzanne Alexander handed out the meals at Southside Elementary School.
“Those gals were there every single day with a smile on their face and encouraging words for the families and children that were in the vehicle,” Lewis said.
Some spring days were freezing with a howling wind, but they still went to work and braved the conditions, with no change in attitude, she said.
Layland also helped distribute meals when needed.
“We had amazing community support, and it’s been amazing to make connections with people,” Stevens said.
Volunteers who did weekday deliveries included Alyson Leighton, Ben and Jessi Borcher, Seth Carter, Anna Paris, Tammie and Travis Hallman, Laura Miers, Rachel Howard, Denise and Troy Phillips, Jaime Bessler, Janet Olson, Eva Treviño and Laura Viklund.
Saturday delivery volunteers included Jill Thompson, Trevor Carpenter, Hunter Christner, and New Life Church helpers Jim and June Browning, Bertie and Mike Eastman and their grandkids, Ralph and Fern Bartholomew, Sophe Morrow, Michael Roller, and Dean, Tonya, Ethan and Anna Bartholomew.
Those who helped with logistics included Denise Schuler, Steve Janes, Christy Schwartz, Rob McCray, Sherri Simpson, Allen Wilson, Paco Jones, Jacque Mooney, Francis Pease and Kami Scott.
Lewis and Lori Pinder oversaw administrative tasks, while Wyoming Department of Education Nutrition Program staff Tamra Jackson, Amanda Anderson and Susan Benning helped the district get through all the hurdles to get the program running under a short turnaround.
“We truly could not have done this without all the hours they put in on their end getting waivers and answering questions,” Lewis said.
Powell’s food service staff members enjoyed a well-deserved break this summer, Lewis said, and “are anxious to get back to seeing the children in their schools this fall.”
“We will continue to face challenges as outlined in the CDC and state of Wyoming health orders, which we are required to follow,” she said. “But I can assure you that they will do what is necessary to get food in those tummies so that the brains are engaged and ready for learning.”