During the spring and summer, the MMSD Food and Nutrition team served up an extra helping of smiles through unprecedented times.
Head Chef Irene Pawlisch understands the importance of taking the stigma out of picking up free meals, and the team has gone out of their way to make the experience a fun, welcoming one for students to enjoy. As a staff member assigned to the central kitchen with no student contact, she embraced the opportunity to connect with families and students.
As President Elect of the School Nutrition Association, she saw many school districts celebrating pick up with theme days. After four years promoting eating a rainbow and scratch cooking for “best you” health as a food service director/chef in small districts doing classroom outreach, she had accumulated a number of tie-dye chef coats and rainbow-themed items. Pawlisch believes that ‘food education is key to altering what students demand from school food. Student demand drives our menu choices. If it takes me dressing up to get a child to try to eat a new fruit or vegetable, I will dress up every day.”
On several occasions, she witnessed parents break down in tears over the food that was being distributed. Many were still working, but their hours had been cut. They were not receiving the extra unemployment benefits, and a few were new to asking for help. Other parents were worn down from trying to teach kids while working from home. “Dressing up gave us all something positive to talk about.”
When students don’t have the nutrition they need, we know they are not prepared to learn - whether in-person or virtual. From the start, the team mobilized to make sure that our students continued to receive the nutrition they needed to be prepared to learn in a virtual environment.
Feeding students throughout our district has meant getting a little creative in the kitchen, with all hands on deck, working together to adjust and pivot in an ever-changing virtual landscape.
Pawlisch gave us the numbers from a recent day in the life of meal distribution:
Between 5am and 10am each day, three MSCR staff members assemble and organize the dock deliveries. Eight people pack three virtual meals (1500 each), while two staff members make nearly 1,000 muffins. And while 7 cases of oranges are being washed and wedged, two staff members open 44 cases of ten cans full of fruit and portion them into one-cup servings.
By 10am everyone is pitching in to finish portioning fruit and transitioning the food production space to assemble 1500 virtual boxes, and at 2 pm most of the staff are finished up for the day.
And that’s just inside the kitchen. The next step is to distribute those meals to 40 sites around the district and get them into the hands of MMSD families.
This only begins to paint the picture of the monumental task of keeping our students fed during school closure.