School nutrition program continues through COVID-19

Katelyn Robinson prepares some fresh fruit for distribution April 23, in Richfield. Robinson is one of the school nutrition program workers who is helping feed students through the COVID-19 crisis.

Eating school lunch in a cafeteria with friends is a hallmark of many people’s lives. 

However, for the time being, cafeterias are empty across the state.

With close to 30,000 meals — both lunch and breakfast — a week being served in Sevier School District, the school lunch program is as busy as ever as it attacks the challenges presented by living in a post COVID-19 world.

“If we don’t serve a meal, we don’t get reimbursed,” said Kathy Torok, district nutrition director. The child nutrition program is funded through the United States Department of Agriculture. Essentially the meals being handed out at sites in Sevier County are an extension of the summer lunch program, Torok said.

“If not for this, I would have had to have let staff go,” Torok said. She said 41 people work for the school lunch program, and utilizing the USDA funding allows them to continue working. Following the announcement that schools in the state would be closing, Torok said a meeting was held for school officials to figure out how to function in a soft closure setting.

One of the functions that was preserved was the school lunch/breakfast program.

“The next day I told my staff, ‘summer starts now,’” Torok said.

Although now instead of eating in the cafeteria, meals are picked up curbside at locations throughout the county. 

 “Our staff is used to preparing meals and presenting them on trays in a way that looks appealing,” Torok said. “They work so hard to make sure it looks good and tastes good. Now we have to package them in a way that we hope they turn out when warmed up at home.”

The “to go” format of the meals adds some new challenges for nutrition staff. Food has to be held to temperature, and prepared in a way that it can be warmed up at home.

“Milk is a challenge,” Torok said. She said the district’s refrigeration units are filled to capacity as they deal with the increased demand for meals. 

In addition to the big changes in how meals are prepared and served, there are also some subtle modifications. One example is apples that would have been sliced are now sent out whole so they can last longer.

However, the demand is a good thing for employees as it’s allowed the nutrition program to continue functioning, Torok said.

“Our community has rallied behind us and been awesome,” Torok said.  Meals are loaded into buses and taken to the various sites in the county. This also allows the district to utilize bus drivers who otherwise wouldn’t have anyone or anything to shuttle around.

The program is also delivering meals to daycares in the county. With purchasing restrictions on many items being implemented, some daycare facilities are having a hard time buying enough to feed the children in their care, Torok said. She said the nutrition program is able to provide meals to the children in daycares.

“It’s been a great program,” said Sevier District Superintendent Cade Douglas. “They’ve really been able to do some amazing things.”

Drive-up meal times and locations are as follows — 

• Ashman Elementary School, 70 North 200 West, 11 a.m. - 11:45 a.m.

• Richfield Lions Park, 400 North 500 West, 12:15 p.m. - 12:45 p.m.

• Richfield City Park, 100 East 300 North, 11 a.m. - 11:45 a.m.

• Rotary Park, 800 South 900 West, 12:15 p.m.- 12:45 p.m.

• Glenwood, 175 East 300 North, 12:15 p.m. - 12:45 p.m.

• Annabella, 100 North between Main Street and Center Street, 11:15 a.m. - 11:45 a.m.

• Redmond, 45 West Main Street, 11:30 a.m.- noon

• North Sevier High School, 350 West 400 North 12:30 p.m. - 1 p.m.

• Aurora, 60 South between Main Street and Center Street, 11:30 a.m.- noon.

• Sigurd, 1000 North Highway 24, 12:30 p.m. - 1 p.m.

• Koosharem Elementary School, 75 East Center Street, 11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.

• Elsinore, 200 North between Center Street and 100 East, noon - 12:30 p.m.

• Joseph, 100 East 100 North, 11 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.

• Central Valley, 50 West Center Street, 11:15 a.m. - 11:45 a.m. 

• Monroe, 100 North Main Street, 12:15 p.m. - 12:45 p.m.

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