"We're scared too," said Gina Stave, Wadena-Deer Creek food service staff member, adding they have families at home too but yet they're working as the general public is social distancing.
The WDC food service teams continue their system of making sure students are fed and fed well during the school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a time of packaging and delivering meals that is "very different" from preparing and serving hot meals, the food service staff at the elementary and middle/high school have prepared over 10,000 breakfasts and lunches, according to a WDC Public Schools Facebook post on April 15.
In the elementary kitchen, you won't hear much conversation outside of, "Did you count these?" and "Is there room in the fridge?" along with bits of banter and notes on dreams from the night before. Of course, April 9 was the day extra meals were prepared for the Easter weekend, so “it isn’t always like this.”
"We laugh," said Sue Tast, food service staff member. "We are ourselves here."
The moments are anything but still. Rather there is a constant stream of movement from carts rolling, fridges and freezers being reorganized, food being added to bags and boxes sliced open for the next food item as the 250 daily meals are made at the elementary school.
The elementary kitchen is ordered in an assembly line for packaging the breakfasts and lunches, which fluctuate each day depending on what is available, mostly sandwiches with fresh fruits and vegetables as well as breakfast items. Sandwiches are handmade—with gloves on of course—and are often started the day before due to the long hours this process takes, according to head cook Nadine Wegscheid. Staff begin coming in at 6:30 a.m. with the length of days depending on the food being made.
How are the meals funded?
The schools are working under the United States Department of Agriculture summer food program rather than the hot lunch program as it is “more flexible,” according to Superintendent Lee Westrum. With the summer lunch program, all students at WDC can receive a meal regardless of income due to the percentage of students in the free and reduced lunch program. Westrum said each meal is reimbursed with an expected break even for the food service fund.
The meals follow the USDA requirements of a “well-balanced” meal for breakfast and lunch with proteins, grains, milk, fruits and vegetables, according to Westrum. When the meal program started with grab and go on March 18, Westrum said the numbers were in the 200s and increased to 500 immediately when delivery began. Westrum encourages families to join the program as the number of meals increase almost every day. In the team effort, bus drivers and paraprofessionals deliver the meals on six different routes Monday through Friday.
“We’re pleased that we’re able to still provide meals for the kids. We know that they need them and … this (distance learning) put a lot of stress on families and parents to help their kids through this and some are home, some aren’t, some are working and so if you can take one thing off of their plate and they get a meal then that’s really helpful,” Westrum said.