The Utica Community Schools (UCS) food service workers, who usually serve students inside school cafeterias, have battled 90 degree heat and blinding rainstorms to keep students fed during COVID-19. One year after Michigan initially shut down in-person learning to mitigate the pandemic, the school food program has distributed over 1.8 million meals.
Within three days of school shut-downs in March last year, a district-wide remote food distribution plan went into place to serve free, healthy meals to the UCS community for all children age 18 and older. Distribution sites went up at 14 UCS schools and community sites, with COVID-19 protocols in place, offering to-go meals for all students, regardless of where they went to school or if they qualified for food assistance.
In Macomb County, one in six children suffer from food insecurity and through this initiative, funded by the USDA, free meal waivers allowed schools the flexibility to feed students. Recently the USDA extended the waivers through this summer.
“We recognize the direct link between student learning and nutrition, and thanks to the extraordinary work of our food service team, we did not miss a beat when it came to providing nutritious meals to families,” Interim Superintendent Robert Monroe said. “Our district remains committed to supporting the needs of our students and providing core services during this global pandemic.”
Organizers said during the initial weeks, the community reached out asking how they could help, and provided assurances that food distribution information would be shared with neighbors who depended on the service.
“On that first day, we had no idea how many meals we would need,” said Mandy Sosnowski, Director of Food and Nutrition Services at UCS. “The cars kept coming and we kept making more food. People were so happy to get the meals, some even cried. After that, there was no doubt; we were doing the right thing for our community.”