By Julia Purdy
Even when schoolchildren are required to stay home, the school meals program must go on. And this year, in addition to seeing that kids don’t miss out on nourishment, the program helps to relieve the extra financial hardship of parents being out of work as well as offering paid work to paraeducators, school bus drivers and meal preparers.
Every student under 18 is eligible; families must apply. Families in the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union received 5,293 breakfast-lunch combos the week of April 27-May 3 alone. RNESU includes Barstow Memorial School in Chittenden, Lothrop Elementary in Pittsford, Neshobe Elementary and Otter Valley Union High School in Brandon, and Sudbury, Leicester and Whiting elementary schools.
Since March 19, brown paper bags containing snacks and light meals have been delivered by paraeducators riding school buses, dropping off a breakfast and lunch combo at or near students’ homes. In mid-morning, school buses trundle along the roads, where picnic coolers of all shapes and sizes await delivery of bags containing whole fruits, pints of 1% milk, breakfast foods and protein lunch fare. Meal bags may also be picked up each morning in the parking lots at Neshobe, Lothrop, Barstow and Leicester.
Weekend meals were added April 24.
The Abbey Group, a contracted school food service based in Enosburg Falls, Vermont, puts up the meals, employing four cooks at the Otter Valley UHS production site for weekday meals, and four cooks at Neshobe Elementary for weekend meals. Connie Burleson, operations administrator at Enosburg Falls, told the Mountain Times that all the cooks volunteered for the project.
All staff has gone through the Vermont Dept. of Labor’s Covid training, which includes social distancing, masks and gloves, in addition to the national restaurant association’s annual ServSafe training in food handling.
The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) reimburses costs individually by site.
The Abbey Group contracts with school districts in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New York as well. “Last week alone we provided 150,000 meals as a company” for all the schools, Burleson said.