Friday, October 30, 2020

RSU 14 ensures students receive school meals while learning remotely

By Ed Pierce

RSU 14 Director of School Nutrition Jeanne
Reilly, left, visits with Mobile Meals Van drivers
Ashley Genovese and Phil Herbert following
distribution of take-home student meals at
Manchester School in Windham on Tuesday
morning. The free breakfast and lunch meals
are intended to see that RSU 14 students do
not go hungry on virtual learning days.

Thanks to a generous new program offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and using a new Mobile Meals Van, RSU 14 is stepping up to see that every student in the district does not go hungry.

With many families in Raymond and Windham struggling to make ends meet during the COVID-19 pandemic, over the summer RSU 14 administrators pondered how to best meet nutritional needs for children who were not able to be physically attend school because of the virus. Without burdening the district’s transportation department already at capacity because of newly imposed CDC social distancing requirements, the RSU purchased a van to be operated for transporting school meals to convenient pick-up locations for students to consume at home.

“We started utilizing our Mobile Meals Van on the first day of school on Sept. 9,” said Jeanne Reilly, RSU 14 Director of School Nutrition. “With school operating on a hybrid schedule, and children learning from home at least three days per week, we were very concerned about meeting the nutritional needs of students on their virtual learning days. We developed a plan to make meals more accessible to students on those days. At the time, USDA, which funds our program, had extended COVID-related waivers, allowing us to offer meals to all children at no cost until the end of December.”

Since then, Reilly said that Congress issued additional funding and gave the USDA permission to extend the waivers until the end of the 2020-2021 school year meaning that for the remainder of the school year, all school meals will be available to all children in RSU 14 free of charge.

The Mobile Meals Van serves anywhere from 300 to 500 meals from the van each day, and on Fridays the program also offers families the opportunity to pick up weekend meals, which Reilly said is also
allowable because of COVID-19 related waivers.   

“On the days that we are serving weekend meals, we are serving over 1,500 meals,” Reilly said. “We are using the van every school day.  We begin our Mobile Meals route at 10:30 a.m. in Windham and end at 12:35 p.m. in Raymond.  We are considering extending our time, as some of our stops are very busy.”

The RSU 14 meals consist of breakfast and lunch and are delivered at five different locations including Stadium Drive from 10:30 to 10:45 a.m.; Joyful Noise Daycare from 10:55 to 11:15 a.m.; the Manchester School Parking Lot from 11:20 to 11:35 a.m.; the Raymond Elementary School Parking Lot from noon to 12:15 p.m.; and the Creative Kids Daycare Parking Lot from 12:20 to 12:35 p.m.

“Mostly we are offering cold menu items, such as sandwiches, salad, bento box style lunches that can be consumed cold without re-heating,” Reilly said. “For students in middle and high school, we do include some items that need to be reheated such as macaroni & cheese, chili, and pizza.  The younger children, however, are often eating these meals in a daycare setting, where heating the meals up might be problematic.

Weekend meals tend to be bulk foods and also includes food that may need to be assembled or re-heated at home.” 

Reilly said two people drive the van’s route and serve the meals which are prepared by RSU 14 kitchen staff and packaged to be eaten at home. Currently, all students through the age of 18 can eat for free, even those children who are not yet in school and children who are homeschooled.

“We do ask that meals be ordered through our Nutrislice APP or through the Nutrislice Program,” Reilly said. “This helps us to plan accordingly and helps us to ensure that we have enough meals.   Pre-ordering also helps us manage over-production and waste.”

Meals can be ordered by downloading the free Nutrislice App or by visiting

"A parent or guardian can create an account and add each child to their account, using their school student ID, or in lieu of a student ID they can use a phone number or birthday or other number,” Reilly said. “Meals can be ordered up to 30 days in advance and need to be ordered by 9 p.m. the night before the date of delivery.” 

She said that the content of the meals will change periodically or by the season.

“For the first six weeks, we only varied our menu slightly, but moving into November and December, we have planned a few changes and updates,” Reilly said.

Funding for the Mobile Meals is derived from a USDA program initiated earlier this year to ensure that all students receive a nutritious meal, twice a day, throughout the school week.

“As our nation reopens and people return to work, it remains critical our children continue to receive
safe, healthy and nutritious food,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue who emphasized that students across America need to have access to food as childhood hunger rates have increased as a result of the pandemic. “
We are grateful for the heroic efforts by our school food service professionals who are consistently serving healthy meals to kids during these trying times, and we know they need maximum flexibility right now.”

Christopher Howell, RSU 14 superintendent, said the Mobil Meals Van is another example of how the district has adapted to life during the COVID-19 crisis.

“The pandemic has impacted the way that we run our schools in RSU 14.  In addition to the six brick and mortar schools in our district, we are currently running a seventh virtual school for 440 students,” he said.  “As instruction has adapted to this model, so has the school nutrition program.  Each and every day our school nutrition staff serves delicious and healthy meals to all of our in-person learners, hybrid home learners, and the remote students at home.”

Howell said everyone associated with RSU 14 can take pride in programs that serve students such as
the Mobile Meals Van.

“I am proud of all of the work that our school nutrition staff have completed as they have overcome the logistical challenges of feeding breakfast and lunch to in-person and remote students,” Howell said. “The work that they do each day helps to maintain the connection between our distance learners and their schools.”

Reilly said that the best aspect of the program is the RSU has been able to feed children healthy breakfast and lunches whether or not they are in school at no cost to the families.

“The feedback we have received has been overwhelming,” Reilly said. “Families are so grateful.”

She said the program also helps children in other ways during the pandemic.

“Even without the need, a school meal gives students familiarity and has restored some normalcy to their lives when they’re not in school,” Reilly said. 

There are challenges in operating a mobile school meals program and most of that centers on managing waste either when families may order meals and then because of circumstances not pick them up.

“That’s why we have to make sure we are preparing the right amount of food for the program,” Reilly said. “I also worry about getting meals to families who are without transportation or have other issues. We’re going to keep doing this through the end of June.” <   

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