Lynnville-Sully has leveraged its participation in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Summer Food Service Program to provide free and nutritious breakfast and lunch meals over the summer months for all children ages 1-18 in the community, and families are reaping the benefits of this service.
The number of children served is growing – 154 children took advantage of the free meals that were picked up the first distribution day on June 2. The following week, that number blossomed to 196 children. As more people learn about the program and all it is providing, L-S Food Service Director Shelley Vander Molen won’t be surprised if the number continues to grow.
Implementing a successful summer food program requires a total team effort. Vander Molen is assisted by
L-S lunch secretary Cathy Fraker and a team of six “amazing” ladies who help assemble and distribute meals each week – Beth Hamilton, Sandy Cordes, Sue Pastoor, Megan Lanser, Lynn Dunsbergen, and Carla Vander Molen. Community participation and responsibility is also pivotal to the program’s success.
Families are asked to sign up every week for the meals to ensure proper ordering and product fulfillment. Sign up is required by 8 a.m. each Monday. A link to the sign-up form is located on the school’s website, lshawks.com, and is emailed to all L-S families each week. Even though sign up is not encouraged and families will be served even if they don’t sign up, this step is extremely vital. “Having people sign up is a huge help!” said Fraker. “We have limited extras on hand so it’s really important to sign up to be guaranteed to get your food.”
“Sign up helps us plan so much better so we have boxes ready and people can be here just a few short minutes and be on their way,” said Fraker.
Each Monday morning, Vander Molen gathers the sign-up numbers and starts the ordering process. All food – which is prepackaged and meets the guidelines set by the USDA Summer Food Service Programs – is ordered from Martin Brothers. On Wednesday morning starting at 7 a.m., Vander Molen and her staff of six set up boxes or bags with labels of family/children names in alphabetical order and start the assembly-line process of filling the boxes with enough food to cover breakfast and lunches for the week. Each box includes a variety of items Vander Molen orders each week. More items that can be heated at home such as crispitos, pizzas, and mini pancakes, have started to make their way into the meal rotation and organizers hope more hot items will be on future menus. In addition to the food items, each child receives one half-gallon of chocolate milk, one half-gallon of white skim milk, and one quart of orange juice each week.
From 10:30-11:30 each Wednesday, families participating are asked to pick up their meals. Participants enter through the Hawk Pride doors (#5 doors, located near the school kitchen) where they will be greeted by Fraker who handles the check-in process. Participants are given a sticker and then go through the school lunch line where staff members gather and deliver their box or bag of meals for the week. Families with multiple children are encouraged to take assistance as the number of boxes and bags can be numerous depending on the number of children participating. Many families take additional totes or rolling coolers for easier transport.
It’s important to note that either the parents/guardians must be present for pick up with or without children or all children signed up must be present if picking up without a parent. For example, a grandma or friend can pick up your children’s meals but the children must also be present at the pick-up site. These are guidelines set by the USDA and must be followed to ensure funding continues.
Organizers say this is an ongoing learning process, and they are working hard to make sure each week goes smoother than the last. Vander Molen plans for extras when she’s ordering. Last week at the June 9 pick-up, the school ran out of milk due to participants who showed up for free meals but did not sign up. Moving forward, milk will be provided for everyone who signed up, and a limited number of extras will be given on a first-come, first-serve basis until it is gone to those who did not sign up.
This is the first year L-S has participated in a summer meal program. Typically, federal assist-ance is limited to areas where 50% or more of students qualified for free or reduced-price meals. The Lynnville-Sully Community School District does not meet such criteria. However, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) allowed the USDA to issue nationwide waivers to increase flexibility and allow parents to pick up a week’s worth of meals at a time.
While this is the first year L-S is providing a summer meal program, they did gain some experience last year during the school shutdown due to COVID when they provided a meal pick-up service every Monday and Wednesday Apr. 1-May 27. Food distribution dates for the remainder of the summer are June 23 and 30; July 14, 21, and 28; and Aug. 4.