by Bruce Brown
Having a few hundred people over for an afternoon meal would make most of us panic, but not the people who work in the kitchens of Stockbridge Schools. They serve hundreds and hundreds of meals every day of the school year, Covid or not.
Stockbridge has three kitchens and eight cafeteria workers. They are led by Stephanie White. She started out as a cafeteria worker in 2000 and now serves as Director.
A national eligibility waiver passed in response to the pandemic allows schools to provide meals without charging students. Formerly, students had an account to pay for breakfast and lunch. Before, about 2% of our students qualified for reduced cost and 32% qualified for free meals depending on family circumstances.
To help control the spread of Covid our elementary students stay in consistent groups during the day, which reduces contact with other students to minimize virus transmission. We stopped scheduling multiple classes in the elementary school cafeterias. Elementary students now eat breakfast and lunch in their classroom to stay within their minimal contact group.
These two factors, eating in the classroom and no cost meals, has significantly increased the number of breakfasts and lunches served when school is in-person. On a “normal” day in pre-Covid times we served about 730 meals each day. Our average last October during in-person instruction was 920 meals each day.
When school is all virtual our kitchens are still active. Families can sign their students up for a weeks’ worth of breakfasts and lunches. There is no cost. Our cafeteria workers package meals with the help of our bus drivers, and they are picked up by families on a designated day. We also deliver. On average 2,132 meals a week go out the cafeteria doors even without students in school.
The longtime favorite school lunch was once macaroni and cheese. Now, the favorite for older students is split between Tangerine Chicken and Nachos. Younger students are equally divided between chicken nuggets and pizza.
Legislation, regulation, and financial support for school cafeterias has changed over the years. Our cafeteria workers deserve credit for remaining flexible and creative in providing nutritious meals during these pandemic times. What’s more, they have done so within their budget.