WORTHINGTON — Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Minnesota Minnesota Department of Education's food and nutrition services approved a waiver that extends summer food service through the end of the calendar year, District 518's current method of distributing meals is different from its summer service, causing some staff members to raise concern that not every student is being served.
District 518's summer food program allows any kid between age 1 and 18 — whether they attend district schools or not — to pick up a lunch and breakfast for the following day from 11 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday at one of several sites around Worthington. It's this method that was used when the district was forced to move to distance learning this past spring.
This school year, though, meal service is different. Food is only available for pickup on Mondays and families are assigned, by last name, one of the district school buildings. They may come between 9 and 10 a.m. or 5 and 6 p.m. to pick up meals for the week for every child in the family.
Some district employees have raised concerns with this system and spoke with The Globe under the condition that their names not be used.
One problem, it was stated, is simply with communication. Information about the changed meal service program is only available in English and Spanish on the district's website and Facebook page. Plenty of families don't read either language, it was noted, and many immigrants come from cultures where they don't look to the Internet for information, but word of mouth.
District Communication Coordinator Parker Sandhurst said that the district has family liaisons that communicate directly with families who speak a variety of languages.
"It is the district’s goal to reach all families with relevant information, and we use as many communication channels as possible to achieve this," he said.
However, some teachers reported that they're aware of students' families having no idea that they had to go to a certain building at a certain time on Mondays in order to get food.
A second concern is that many families don't have vehicles and aren't able to travel to their assigned building, especially to Prairie Elementary and the middle school, which are far ends of town and difficult to walk to.
A third concern raised by teachers and support staff is that many families aren't able to store a whole weeks' worth of food at once, particularly when they have several children. Some of the items need to be frozen or refrigerated, and not every family is able to accommodate that.
These limitations primarily impact families of color, immigrants and English learners, it has been suggested.
"We're doing a disservice to them," one employee noted.
With students spending less time in school, it's even more essential that they are fed when they're learning from home.
"Having access to nutritious food is a key piece to success in schools," said WMS counselor Carrie Adams. "In order for kids to perform their best academically, their bodies and brains need to be well fed."
She noted that many families with the district are food-insecure and rely on school programs to give their children proper nutrition. She encourages any parents with questions about food pickup to call their child's school.
Adams added that the school counselors in each building are working with Sharing Seeds to provide an additional bag of food each month for any family who needs it.
When the District 518 school board approved the extension of the district's food service program, the method of delivery wasn't discussed. Administrators decided to make changes to its meal service due to personnel concerns, Superintendent John Landgaard explained.
"It really comes down to having enough people to prepare the lunches," he said.
"It's a fairly smooth system," Landgaard added, noting that he hasn't heard any feedback from students, parents or staff about how lunch service has been going.
By law, District 518 is required to collect data on how many meals are being served, but administrators have not directly compared current lunch service metrics with data from the spring, he said.