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PCPS food services going mobile

By WILLIAM PAINE

william.paine@southwesttimes.com

By order of the Governor of Virginia, all school systems in the state were closed for two weeks and there is a very real possibility that schools may be closed for even longer.

Monday students were given learning packets to allow them to study from home, but another major concern for school officials was feeding all of the children who rely on school meals for sustenance.

The Pulaski County Public School system took a proactive approach to this by distributing meals through their Summer Food Service Program which makes every student in the county eligible to receive free meals.

Wednesday, March 18, was the first day that this program was started and according to PCPS Nutritionist Ethelene Saddler, 4,410 meals were served to 1,102 Pulaski County school children. Of those, 127 meals were delivered directly to the homes of students.

“These are uncharted waters so there’s a lot of things to figure out,” said Sadler. “This is new to every school division everywhere and I thought our program really ran smoothly Wednesday.”

Three schools are being used as food preparation sites for the duration of this program: Pulaski County High School, Snowville Elementary School and Critzer Elementary School. Each of these preparation sites is overseen by a Site Supervisor, who works in the school’s food service department. They are Olivia Fizer, Sheila Stoddard and Lynn Jones.

The Critzer team is headed by Lynn Jones, who normally works as the Nutrition Manager for the school. Her team of 17 food service employees made nearly 2,400 meals Wednesday.

“I’ve worked for the school system a little over 28 years and never had to do anything like this before … never,” said Jones. “We do this for our summer program, so this is just on a bigger scale in a smaller kitchen. I have my staff here and Pulaski Elementary and Pulaski Middle. We’re making an assembly line of sealing and bagging, packing and taking deliveries.”

On Mondays and Wednesdays these preparation sites prepare packages that will provide two meals for two days. Friday’s packages include enough food for two meals only. Theoretically, each child in the PCPS system could receive 10 meals a week.

“Today is peanut butter, Scooby Bones (crackers), fruit, milk and we did a breakfast with Pillsbury items,” said Jones. “Then we do another lunch for tomorrow, which is chicken strips and corn and fruit and milk. The chicken strips are frozen, so all they do is heat. We hand out cooking instructions to all the parents.”

Since some students are allergic to peanut butter, a salad option was also prepared. Some type of fruit is a part of most every meal.

“We have USDA entitlement money that is set aside every year,” said Ethelene Sadler. “It’s from the Department of Defense and that’s part of our USDA entitlement and so we had about $35,000 set aside just to purchase fruits and vegetables. Thankfully we had some of those funds left and we’re utilizing those funds to give students fresh fruits and vegetables, which is very nutritious.”

These meals were distributed at the schools that were used for prep sites, but most of the food was taken to drop sites spread across the county. According to Sadler, the busiest drop sites were at Fairlawn Baptist Church, Dublin United Methodist Church, PCHS, Critzer Elementary School and the Meadow View Apartments.

“There are a lot of pieces to this puzzle that are done behind the scenes, but it is essential that we do it correctly,” said Sadler, who spent Thursday adjusting the number of meals taken to each location based on which sites received more or less traffic.

She also spends time with her food nutrition staff to find out which foods are in supply, so that a menu can be made well in advance of distribution.

“We see shelves that are bare in a lot of isles in the grocery stores,” said Sadler. “This program enables us to assist these parent by giving them these meals. Hopefully that will take a little pressure off for them. It is so important to our entire school nutrition team to make sure these kids have nutritional needs met. We work for the students. That’s what our jobs entail every day.”

Elaine East of the PCPS system monitors all of the food preparation sites to ensure that all meals are made in compliance with health department regulations.

“All of our staff are Serve Safe Certified,” said Sadler. “They know about food safety. We want to give the parents that peace of mind to know that these meals are safe for their children and that we follow the highest safety standards and procedures in our schools every day and not just during a crisis situation.”

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