Even during normal times, the talents and hard work of our school nutrition professionals—sometimes affectionately called “Lunch Ladies”—are often overlooked and unappreciated. Yet despite the challenges of school closures, these essential workers have continued to provide nutritious meals for children all across the country.
To recognize and celebrate those who are working so hard to feed their communities across Vermont, staff of NOFA-VT are traveling the state with the NOFA-VT mobile pizza oven this summer, cooking delicious wood-fired lunches for hard-working crews. The program, dubbed “Feeding Those Who Feed Us,” sources organic and seasonal ingredients to make fresh pizzas on site.
“It’s been challenging because we can’t make everything from scratch the way we’re used to,” said Karyl Kent, the Director Nutrition Services for the Lamoille North School District. “Even more challenging is that we don’t get to see the satisfaction on the faces of the kids and the teachers. We are nurturers, and we thrive when we make nourishing meals that we are proud of.”
On Thursday, June 11th, NOFA-VT staff went to the Hyde Park Elementary School to provide lunch for the school nutrition staff, who have been working diligently to make healthy breakfasts and lunches for students across the Lamoille North School District, including Lamoille Union High School, Lamoille Union Middle School, Green Mountain Technology and Career Center (GMTCC), and several elementary schools.
52 fresh pizzas were made and distributed to school nutrition workers, cooks, a farmer, a school nurse, and a bus driver, all of whom have provided critical support for the meal programs during school closures this spring. Asparagus, spring spinach and red onions grown at the GMTCC farm topped the pies. Karyl said that the workers really appreciated the gesture. “One co-worker said, ‘Oh wow, we get a whole pizza?’ It felt so good to be recognized,” she said. “We are working every day in the cafeterias and gyms, packaging and loading meals. We’ve been asked to be essential, to provide meals for the kids, and we jumped on board. But we don't receive any extra hazard pay. It's hard work and we are grateful to be recognized.”
Before the schools closed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the school nutrition team served about 6,200 meals each week, but the number increased to more than 8,000 meals because they now provide free meals for preschoolers and children from private daycare centers in addition to older students. The meals are pre-packaged and delivered by bus, or provided at curbside pickups throughout the district. The work has been difficult because of the packaging and delivery requirements, but the workers have continued to put their hearts into the meals for the kids in their district.
Despite the challenges, Karyl and her team worked hard to incorporate local ingredients wherever possible. From incorporating food from the GMTCC farm, to pickling local beets that were leftover from Vermont Harvest of the Month taste tests, and creating make-your-own salad bar kits featuring local carrots, beets, and cucumbers, they consistently went above and beyond the call of duty to keep kids well-nourished while supporting local farms.
“We miss the day-to-day interactions,” Karyl said. “We feel a little like factory workers now. So we are looking forward to getting back to baking fresh homemade rolls, and banana bread, and the rest of it. We know we have to do this now, but we're really looking forward to getting back to making and serving fresh food for our communities.”