Meal Program Serves Over 1 Million Meals Since School Closures
From March 17 to August 17 (our first day of school), our Nutrition Services department served 707,006 free meals to students. By October 3, the department had served over one million meals!
Meals have been served in breakfast and lunch meal kits which are picked up by families once a week in a drive-thru service.
During the onset of the pandemic, we heard that our families were also in need of weekend meal assistance. From April 16 to August 10, the City of Santa Clara collaborated with us to distribute 62,640 weekend meals to families. A new grant from USDA allows the district to add the weekend meal program to our weekly meal distribution program. We are thrilled to be able to offer our families seven days of free breakfast and lunch meals through at least December 2020.
Each week our participation numbers are increasing as word spreads about the service. On September 11 we distributed 33,376 meals to 2,384 students. By September 18, that had increased to 48,804 meals to 3,486 students. A total of 82,180 meals were served to our students over those two weeks!
“Providing the nutritional foundations of a child is the most important thing next to shelter,” said Bowers Elementary School parent, Linda. “We are just really thankful and grateful that our county, the city, and the school district are providing these great meals.”
Over the summer break, we served an average of 2,500 meals per day. The USDA Seamless Summer free meal program we had been participating in ended on the first day of school and we had to return to our pre-covid program in which only students whose families were eligible for the free and reduced-price meal program received free meals. To everyone’s concern, we saw participation drop by over 50 percent. Districts in other parts of the state and country saw even steeper drops in participation. We all worried about how our students and their families were faring with the loss of the free meal program and whether our students were all getting the daily nutrition they needed in order to focus on their learning. Our school district was not alone in our concern.
Within two weeks of the first day of school, USDA responded to the nationwide concern by announcing that the free meal program would return and allow for weekend meals through at least December 2020. On September 4, after free meals were announced, our daily meal average was back up.
To make all of this happen each week, it takes a crew of approximately 65 volunteers and transportation staff to support the weekly meal distribution days. In addition to the volunteers, we have around 45 nutrition services employees working 2-3 days a week plus Farm Consultant David Tuttle who works every day to take care of our district farm.
“Virtually every single department was represented on our food distribution line serving our families and our community,” said Nutrition Services Director Karen Luna. She went on to say, “It’s been really rewarding being able to give our families some food to get them through these challenging times. We are waiting for the day to welcome students back to our cafeterias.”
In addition to our weekly breakfast and lunch meal kits, families often received bonus kits. We have added over 7,700 pounds of bagged fresh fruits and vegetables from our district-run farm. And, over 3,000 “USDA Farmers to Families” boxes of fruits, vegetables, and sometimes meat.