LESSONS LEARNED – REFLECTING ON THE PANDEMIC
Written by: Audene Chung, PrimeroEdge Director of Customer & Expert Care
Several years ago, I was attending a state school food service association conference meeting. During the Keynote Speakers’ Presentation, she had everyone in the audience participate in the ice breaker where she asked everyone to empty the contents of their bags, purses, wallets, and pockets onto the table they were seated and each person had to describe to their neighbors the contents. It was amazing to see what people carry around with them.
Men and woman both carried items like cash, credit cards, phones, and their IDs, but women also carried items like notebooks & planners, mini first aid kits, hand sanitizer, makeup, 2-4 lipsticks of all the same color varying shades, a bevy of office supplies like rubber bands and paper clips, pens, highlighters, and mechanical pencils, combs and brushes, hairnets, hair ties, stamps, and many other random items from food snacks to phone bills. It made me reflect that there might have been a lot of Girl Scouts in the bunch practicing the Girl Scout Motto… “Be prepared”.
I start with this little story to say that while we prepare for everyday encounters, no one was prepared for this pandemic. It has just been amazing to see the level of ingenuity and courage that has risen in this time of crisis. So, we asked some school foodservice champions to reflect on their experiences.
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM THE CRISIS?
That the value of networking has become imperative because we can all use each other and help each other. What helped us, because we had to go through such changes in the program, we became so flexible. At first, we didn’t reach as many students, but now we have regained our student population. I remind myself that it is an adventure, and because of the flexibility from the USDA, we have to pretend as if we are a fast-food drive-thru. I find myself playing with the Sonic restaurant app. Maybe we are charting a new course in serving meals in public education, which is a plus because we were losing kids from homeschooling and we are now re-engaging with those students.
I was reminded that I have an awesome and dedicated team and community. The entire community pulled together. I was surprised by the number of volunteers that came out to serve and support the students. We went from serving from a single building to the curbside, from 5 days and 10 meals to once a week and 14 meals, so food service is resilient. We do what we have to do to serve the kids and get the job done. We can adapt to the situation and we are a necessary entity in the community.
How much the district and the community depend on Child Nutrition.
This experience reminded me of just how valuable teamwork is every day and not being afraid to try new things. We had to pull together more than ever to change our operations (cafeteria to curbside) in 24 hours, step outside of our comfort zones, and come up with creative solutions.
I have learned that you need to keep calm and be understanding; always have a back-up plan ready if something goes wrong, as we all know that things will go wrong when we least expect it. Be flexible but firm with staff and vendors (where possible) in order to get things done to keep your goal moving forward to serve students and adults to the best of your abilities. This could be a vendor who doesn’t deliver your food on time or all that you ordered or you may be short a few team members.
HOW WILL THIS CHANGE WHAT YOU DO FOR BTS?
I’m more creative on the menu, don’t view food in the classroom as just for sack lunches, keep menus as consistent as what they would get if they walked through the serving line. With the school closing, I ask myself “how can I provide a variety of menu items that work for different serving types?” I see how many things other school districts have done to be creative with the menu and keep the food appealing and interesting. I have come up with more creative packaging, we needed to push the packaging envelope in School food service for a while.
Multiple ways to serve the students and be more flexible. Like serving in the classroom, being able to modify the menu so it can be eaten anywhere, and options for remote learners. We will have to seek out additional revenue streams to sustain the program.
Since the pandemic the Nutrition Department has now been invited to the table for discussions regarding the district’s back to school plans.
With so many unknowns, we will have to continue working together more than ever and be ready to adapt.
Things will change. I am sure of that. How will they be adjusted? I don’t fully know at this time, as I am still waiting on the board to approve their plan for schools. I know that all of the products will be wrapped or covered or in containers of some sort. Social distancing will slow things down but things will work themselves out and you will find a way to make the line move faster, short cuts that you never saw before in order to get students through the line faster or find a new way to serve; be it an additional line to serve or whatever it may be. If you ever get frustrated; Take a step back and come back to it later. Fresh eyes will always give you a new way of thinking about things.
We want to thank the foodservice champions who contributed to this article and we take our hats off to all of the school foodservice pioneers out there. Keep being resourceful, innovative, and resilient as you continue to serve the children and communities. Duarte Unified School District said that these quotes have helped them through some rough times.I hope it inspires you all during this journey.
- “If you fail, never give up because F.A.I.L. means “First Attempt In Learning”
- E.N.D. is not the end. In Fact, E.N.D. means “Effort Never Dies”
- If you get an N.O. as an answer, remember N.O. means “Next Opportunity”
- Keep thinking positive and you will get through this.