The COVID-19 pandemic has caused disruption in multiple areas of the lives of many, and has extended into public school systems.

Through various programs, many schools have been able to offer free meals to students to help out families affected by the pandemic.

Carbon County School District #1 Food Service Director Tamera Ratcliffe said that the district has used the Seamless Summer Option for the 2021-22 school year to continue providing free breakfast and lunch.

“We’re still able to provide those free meals and we are then reimbursed by the USDA,” Ratcliffe said. “The program serves all of the students from kindergarten all the way up to 12th graders. It’s great because so many households have been affected by the pandemic.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website states that, “Allowing school food authorities to participate under SSO during COVID–19 operations during the regular school year facilitates the safe provision of meals by eliminating the need to collect meal payments, including cash payments, at meal sites.

“This speeds up service of meals, thereby reducing contact and potential exposure to COVID–19. It also facilitates implementation of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for safe school meal service, which include serving meals outdoors or in classrooms.”

Supply chain strain

Another major impact from the pandemic felt by many across the country has been extended supply chain issues.

Ratcliffe said that the school district’s cafeterias have not been spared from dealing with issues of not being able to get certain supplies in.

“We have definitely had a hard time not being able to get certain things in,” Ratcliffe said. “Food service trays have been a major item we haven’t been able to get. For a while, we were trying to just use Styrofoam plates.

“But they just aren’t sturdy enough so now we’re back to using the old-school plastic trays in the cafeteria. Disposable cups have been hard to get, too.”

The district also has had difficulty getting enough milk.

“Thankfully, I was able to make sure that we had a shelf-stable option so the students still had access to milk,” Ratcliffe said.

Ratcliffe said her department has to be flexible when it comes to the ingredients they have access to.

“We’re ordering the ingredients we need when we can. I’ve actually only had to change the menu once due to not having a specific ingredient,” she said.

Even through the pandemic, the district has been able to offer a fresh fruit and vegetable program for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

“This program is great because it gives the students an opportunity to get an extra snack during the day. It runs on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and students are given a piece of either fruit or vegetable in their classrooms,” Ratcliffe said.

Ratcliffe said the program also is used for education purposes.

“So, for instance, the students may be served some mixed berries of blackberries, raspberries and blueberries. They will also be given an educational card to go along with it,” she said. “It gives information about what exactly the fruit or vegetable the students are being served that day.”

When it comes to the success of the program, Ratcliffe said the district has received quite a bit of positive feedback.

“They get to be exposed to fruits and vegetables that they may have never seen before. That’s why we try to offer more exotic fruit when we can,” she said. “It’s been kind of difficult to get access to some of the exotic fruit during the pandemic, but we order them when we can. Next month we’re hoping to offer persimmons.

“But we’ve heard some great things from the parents of students about the program. Their children are able to point out a fruit or vegetable in the grocery store that they have been exposed to through the program they may have never seen before.”

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