Pictured above are staff members Judy Walker and Rajni Maini helping two young people pick out meals.
Serving 5,000 fresh meals every week
The Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) Department at Somerville Public Schools has won local and national recognition for serving healthy food. When it seemed like the whole world came to a halt in March 2020, FNS Director Lauren Mancini and her staff did not stop providing meals to Somerville students. Director Mancini says, “what I think was most difficult about those days was the unknowns. I thought to myself how lucky I am to have this amazing and committed group of people working with me.”
The Somerville Public Schools Food and Nutrition Services Department plays a critical role in food security for Somerville families. Historically, a large percentage of Somerville Public Schools students qualify for Free or Reduced Cost Lunch. There are currently five district schools, including Somerville High School, whose students universally receive free breakfast and lunch. Somerville Public Schools also serves free, universal breakfast at all schools and has been doing so for more than a decade. This has not changed during the COVID-19 crisis. In late February, Somerville Public Schools and the City of Somerville formed teams to start planning for the approaching crisis. A strategy for food security for students was a critical component of the plan. Then the pandemic arrived in Somerville and “we went from 0 to 100 in one day,” says Director Mancini.
Food and Nutrition Services cafeteria staff at each school continued working with only their school teams, in order to stay safe. Director Mancini says she and the staff “couldn’t wrap our brains around the number of meals we had to make and how bad the situation really was for some families.” Each day was exhausting and the staff would clean up and then come back to do it all again the next day.
Since students no longer came into cafeterias for their meals, FNS set up sites outside several schools for families to pick up Grab-and-Go Meals. These meals are healthy, filling, and easy to transport home. As the pandemic increased, so did demand for meals. The Food and Nutrition Services team cooked and served over 5,000 healthy, fresh meals per week for families.
For families facing food scarcity, summer is always stressful because students do not have access to free meals as they do during their school day. Somerville Public Schools has addressed this problem by providing free meals at Somerville’s parks and playgrounds for several decades through our Summer Meals program. Food and Nutrition staff organized the 2020 Summer Meals program around the same drop off locations and schedule that they used during the academic year to minimize disruption for families. Keeping a consistent, seamless schedule supported the families’ faith in the service and helped ensure everyone got the food they needed.
With the remote start of the 2020-2021 school year, Food and Nutrition Services added several more sites and now serves meals at eight Somerville Public Schools sites. Staff adjusted their serving times to accommodate families’ and students’ availability to pick up meals. Food service continues to evolve to meet community needs. Food and Nutrition Services staff and leadership have dealt with this unprecedented crisis through hard work, resiliency, and ingenuity this year. And Somerville students and families have benefited from this through healthy meals and continued food security.
Looking for a free Meal?
Do your kids need a healthy meal during the school week? Be sure to visit the Food and Nutrition Services Department webpage for details about where and when to pick up free meals. https://somerville.k12.ma.us/FNS No identification is necessary and one family member may pick up meals for multiple students.
There are other resources for food in Somerville through local pantries and organizations. Find this information on our website. https://somerville.k12.ma.us/FoodResources
R. Ronen, Communications Specialist