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Child Nutrition Services Continue Seamlessly Despite School Shutdown

When Gov. Newsom closed schools across the state in March because of the Covid-19 pandemic, teachers weren’t the only school district personnel who had to adapt quickly to a new way of doing their jobs.

While many teachers operated from makeshift instructional spaces at their homes and elsewhere, the Alta Loma School District’s child nutrition staff and a small army of volunteers continued to provide student lunches through the end of the school year and throughout the summer –through the Seamless Summer Meals program. Contactless, curbside meals were provided at no charge for all children ages 18 and under in the community.

“We jumped on it right away and the kids didn’t have to miss a meal if they needed one,” said Heather Sloan, director of child nutrition for the Alta Loma School District. “The team, site staff and volunteers worked in pouring rain and summer heat and were out there to make sure meals were distributed.”

More than 45,000 lunches and nearly 6,000 breakfasts were distributed at both Alta Loma Elementary School and Vineyard Junior High during the spring and summer.

Now, as students continue in the distance learning format to begin the 2020-2021 school year, the department has increased its curbside feeding model to include all 10 school sites. Thanks to a recent approval by the United States Department of Agriculture, school meals continue to be offered at no charge for all community children ages 18 and younger.

“This fall families can pick up meals at the school closest to them, regardless of their child’s enrollment site. This way they don’t have to drive to multiple sites,” Sloan said.

Because many parents have returned to work, some have found it difficult to break away to pick up meals. Not surprising, the number of meals that are prepared has dropped from around 3,000 a day district-wide when students were on campus, to about 800 a day through the curbside pickup program.

To make meals more accessible, kitchen staff from Banyan and Hermosa elementary schools began a pilot program delivering hot meals to three different apartment complexes via school busses. The lunch bus distribution reaches an additional 75 students every day and has added several bus drivers to the school meals team.

Sloan credits the district’s kitchen leads who rotated leadership during spring and summer for getting the curbside distribution program off the ground and carrying it forward with the start of the current school year. She said kitchen staff added fun surprises in some of the lunches to continue to connect with kids even when they couldn’t see and visit with them every day at school

“In addition to the child nutrition staff working on the front lines and behind the scenes, we had school board members and administrators who stepped up and helped on a regular basis, and many, many district volunteers,” Sloan said. “It really takes a village.”

Among those who took important leadership roles were Sandra DeVerna, Liliana Garcia, Teresa Gutierrez, Donna Kotenmayer, Sabrina Luna, Angelina Morrison, Annie Nightlinger, Jaimi Park and Isabel Santos.