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School Food Directors: Make an Impact & Stay Connected During COVID-19

For this Food Service Director in rural Maine, staying connected and receiving administration support have made a great impact during COVID-19 school closures. Here's Mike Flynn's story.

This blog post is part of a new series on The Lunch Line called Hero Highlights. The Chef Ann Foundation wants to ensure the incredible stories of our school food workers are being told. These Hero Highlights are stories from the field during this challenging time, as school food teams tackle food insecurity due to widespread school closures amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Stay tuned for more.

For school food support during the coronavirus pandemic, view our COVID-19 Resources & Support page.

For Mike Flynn, Food Service Director in rural Maine, the best way to make an impact during COVID-19 school closures is to stay connected—constantly. Flynn has been able to act quickly and center his emergency feeding program around data, compassion, and community.

Sheepscot Valley RSU 12 has an enrollment of 1,000, with 54% of their student population eligible for free and reduced lunches. At this time, the governor of Maine has mandated statewide district closures until April 24th.

When you first heard the news that COVID-19 might affect your district, what did you do?

We found out that our district was shut down on Monday of last week (March 16, 2020). The first thing we did was draft and send out a survey to our entire community. At the same time, we were putting our application in to qualify for summer feeding mode. We used a Google form, figuring that it was the quickest way we could collect baseline data. It really helped us understand how to streamline our program.

Within 24 hours, we had been approved for summer feeding mode and had enough data from the survey to start sending out the buses. We began our feeding program on Wednesday, March 18, capturing 50% of our population. Two days later that increased, and we are now feeding 60% of our students. Usually, we feed 70%, but since we are serving 7 meals a week, our volume has stayed about the same.

How is your emergency feeding program structured?

Because we are a small town, we will be delivering both breakfast and lunches by bus to individual homes, as if they were picking students up for a normal school day. We are delivering three days a week: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. On Monday and Wednesday, we deliver a two-day supply, and on Friday we deliver meals to last through the weekend. We have a total of 14 buses running on a two-hour delay from their normal route. Each bus has one bus driver and one education technician making distributions as courteously as they can with regards to the 6-foot distance requirement. They are distributing meals to over 500 students and their siblings. We are a preschool - 8th grade district, but because we are such a small town, many of the high schoolers are able to be fed as well because their siblings are in my district. Because we are in rural Maine, reliable internet access is an issue. With our first round of meals, we were also able to send out educational packets prepared by the teachers for their students to complete some at-home studying.

How has this impacted your procurement?

I am watching daily where my vendors are at. Right now they are a bit challenged to follow through with my full orders. I am trying to be ahead of the curve and place my orders at least seven days out. We are striving for as many plant-based meals as possible, incorporating whole fruits, and vegetables. If these options run out, we will move to creative pre-pack items. It’s a bob-and-weave maneuver; since we started, I have had emails coming in from vendors with updates on what is or is not available. I purchase in a co-op model, with most Maine districts sharing a limited group of vendors. We will all share the available produce, and may not all get exactly what we want, based on demand, and limited supply.

How are you prioritizing which foods to serve?

We are starting with fresh fruits and vegetables in the whole form. It is the easiest for us to prepare, keep sanitary and will remain shelf-stable upon arrival. We are trying to minimize staff preparing food hands-on, but we are prepping some items, like cucumbers.

How does this differ from your typical meal program?

We are not offering hot food. The meals we are offering are similar to what students take on field trips. We are strictly doing bagged meals for breakfasts and lunches.

How is your staff handling this? Are you using any special protocols?

Our school food staff is very positive; they are all very interested and being thorough, helping to capture each student in need. We have had custodial support with a fogging system after each day to keep our production area sanitized. We are mi

nimizing non-food service personnel in the production area, and are only using staff with adequate food safety training and experience in the kitchen to minimize cross-contamination. We are utilizing our standard sanitization Standard Operating Procedures. Our distribution team is wearing gloves, they have sanitizer on the buses, and our food is stored in cooler bag systems that have ice packs to keep food chilled en route. Only one person on each bus is distributing the food.

What have been some of your biggest successes?

I am really proud of how the nutrition team has made this happen so fast. They knew the need was there but at first, there weren’t a lot of answers particularly with headcount. We just didn’t have a number. I am proud of how they managed that, and we have been able to adjust as needed. Honestly, we would not have been able to see so much success here without the superintendent’s comfort and support. He manages his administrators with an empowerment approach i.e. here’s what you need, tell me how I can help. That trust and support is incredible. He is out here with us packing meals. Having someone at the top is really helping us get through all of this.

For school food support during the coronavirus pandemic, view our COVID-19 Resources & Support page.


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