As of July 11, the Sun Prairie Area School District Nutrition Program provided 160,000 lunches and 160,000 breakfasts in meal boxes to district households, according to SPASD Nutrition Director Kathy Walker.

One of the ways the 34.9 full time equivalent (FTE) staffers serving 14 schools did that was to draw up a plan of action, Walker said, because pre-COVID, the district served an average daily number of 1,000 breakfasts and 4,100 lunches.

On March 16, the SPASD experienced its first COVID-19 school closure, and two days later the department — whom Walker refers to as “Team Nutrition” — developed its plan to feed families throughout the district. The team ordered food and supplies, established a staffing and distribution plan that included school sites at C.H. Bird, Northside and Westside elementary schools, and communicated the plan to families.

Initially, the department offered sack lunches, breakfasts and cartons of milk — about 200 the first week — but that evolved into meal boxes, Walker said. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the meal boxes were distributed free of charge to children in the SPASD.

Each meal box contained 5 lunches and 5 breakfasts for each child. Families stopped weekly at any of the SPASD’s three drive-through sites to pick up one box per child. And the boxes were complete with menu, storage suggestions, and cooking instructions.

In April 2020, the Sun Prairie Emergency Food Pantry began helping SPASD distribute meals to kids, and SPASD used the pantry to hand out meals six days per week.

In November, the SPASD switched to seven-day meal boxes. In December, SPASD began a meal box delivery service that used a district van to deliver 700 meals. The SPASD subsequently partnered with Kobussen Bus Company to deliver meal boxes.

The meal boxes will continue next school year, Walker said, because the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced the free meals will be continued through the 2021-22 school year. Afterschool snacks will also be free through the 2021-22 school year, Walker said, because of the USDA’s announcement that all after school snacks will also be provided for free.

The district has 2,136 students receiving free meals, 61 receiving reduced price meals along with 5,543 students who pay for their own meals, for a total of 7,740 students. That means 28.4% of the student population receives a free or reduced meal, according to Walker (see the accompanying chart to learn which schools have the highest percentage of free and reduced students).

Part of the way the district did that, Walker said, was during COVID-19, SPASD increased the number of directly certified free meal-eligible students. The percentage is projected to be 94.3% (increase of 13.6% of meals reimbursed at the free reimbursement rate), according to Walker.

Growing their own

Walker reported biotechnology teacher Krist Kvalheim and the Nutrition Department partnered to grow produce in his classroom starting in the fourth quarter of 2020-21 school year. Students used the fresh romaine lettuce to top hamburgers and cheeseburgers and some of the fresh romaine was sent home to Sun Prairie Community School families, while the remainder of the lettuce was harvested and walked upstairs to the Sun Prairie High School kitchen to be cleaned and served.

Walker said she is asking Kvalheim and the agriculture students to grow more lettuce for distribution through the school lunch and meal box programs.

The nutrition director also reported the district received $7,754 through Hunger Hero donations — including a $1,000 donation from Sun Prairie School Board President Steve Schroeder’s daughter. Nicknamed Bug, Schroeder’s daughter started Bug’s Bakery, donating the proceeds from selling cheesecakes to the Hunger Heroes Program.

Walker and her nutrition team also won the Sun Prairie Action Resource Coalition (SPARC) Local Action Award for helping to feed the community during the pandemic.

Future plans

Besides partnering with Kvalheim’s class to grow more lettuce, Walker said the department will continue to increase the number of fruits and vegetables served for more nutritionally balanced meals. Other future SPASD Nutrition Department plans include:

Preparing to open an additional 6-8 grade middle school and another comprehensive high school, including development of staffing and training plans;

Continue to collaborate with the Community School Program, Sun Prairie Emergency Food Pantry, Second Harvest, YMCA, and other stakeholders to ensure families have food security;

Continue with breakfast in the classroom. Walker called it “a huge success and resulted in an increased number of breakfasts served; and

Continue to expand the 18-21 Adult Transition Program to help students become career ready. In the ATP, students helped in the Sun Prairie High School kitchen to prepare meal box food and sack lunches for high school students.

During the July 26 Sun Prairie School Board meeting, board members praised Walker’s team for its efforts during the pandemic.

Board Governance Officer Tom Weber said he was unaware of the many collaborative efforts by the nutrition team. “The community should probably be more aware of [that],” Weber said.

Board Clerk Carol Albright, who said she enjoyed the presentation (viewable in the Videos portion of and with the online version of this story) recalled the SPARC award.

“We really appreciate getting that award . . . it’s been some of the most important work I’ve ever done in my life,” Walker replied to Albright.

Schroeder said he has worked with Walker, Sun Prairie Community Schools Director Jamie Racine and SPASD Assistant Superintendent of Operations Janet Rosseter to have a food pantry and clothes closet set up in each one of the schools.

Another plus for the district, Schroeder said, was that not many districts offered a meal during summer school.

No action was required on the report because it was provided for informational purposes only.

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