Food Services - Thank you

Food Serivices - Thank you
Food Services - Thank you

            Every Wednesday for 10 weeks families from around Howard County lined up outside Kokomo School Corporation’s middle schools to pick up bags containing 5 breakfasts and 5 lunches for their children.

            As these families drove through the parking lots, Kokomo Schools principals and teachers distributed the meals, waving to families and students they recognized.

            What families did not see during these meal distributions was the approximately 80 food services employees who worked countless hours behind the scenes to make these distributions possible.

            “My team was absolutely amazing,” Kokomo Schools Food Services Director Elaine Brovont explained. “I believe these hard-working team members even surprised themselves with how much they accomplished during those 10 weeks.”

            The staff prepared the first distribution in two days. In those 48 hours, staff and administrators completed quick inventories of available food supplies, selected distribution locations, contacted suppliers, and prepared and cupped all fresh fruits and vegetables, among other tasks. Finally, a total of 15,000 meals were packaged and bagged for distribution.

            “I can’t describe how proud I am of my staff for pulling this together in two days,” Mrs. Brovont noted. “After we finished preparations, we anxiously awaited the arrival of families. We were not sure how many would take advantage of this free resource, but we were so happy to distribute all 15,000 meals. We even created a list of 300 families who didn’t receive meals. Our staff quickly made 300 additional meal packages the following day and distributed them to the families.”

            The following week, the food services staff distributed 22,500 meals, and in subsequent weeks, that number was increased to 24,000. In 10 weeks, the staff distributed a total of 231,000 meals to Howard County families.

            Developing an entirely new meal preparation and delivery system presented its own set of challenges for the food services department at Kokomo Schools.

            “Transitioning 12 kitchens to three distribution points and one prep kitchen was a daunting task,” Mrs. Brovont explained. “This situation created new adventures for our staff.”

            Staff members worked up to 24 hours each week continuously monitoring inventory and moving product, ensuring freezers weren’t overfilled, thawing frozen items, packaging meals, and creating labels for meals to meet Board of Health guidelines.

            Food services employee Kimatha Little described an average meal prep day.

            “We began our days by gathering all of the products needed from the refrigerators, freezers, and stock room,” Ms. Little noted. “Next, we filled the bags. In two days, our staff prepared, on average, 2,400 bags… 800 bags each of frozen, refrigerated, and dried goods. Our days involved early mornings, a great deal of lifting and walking, and good camaraderie among co-workers.”

            Matthew Hicks also enjoyed forming relationships with his colleagues.

            “I was able to meet so many new staff members while working in different kitchens,” Mr. Hicks noted. “This was very beneficial to me as this was my first year working for Kokomo Schools. I learned so much that I will be able to use in the coming years!”

            Elizabeth Hummel and her co-workers added: “Other than helping children, building bonds with colleagues was the most enjoyable part of the new meal distribution program. We met, and developed friendships with, colleagues we never worked alongside before. It was cool to share stories and experiences with these new friends and learn from other perspectives.”

            Staff members agreed that helping students during the pandemic was, hands down, the most rewarding part of the meal distribution program.

            Mrs. Brovont noted that menus had to be changed weekly based on product availability from suppliers, so staff members enjoyed receiving compliments on the food from families.

            One parent noted: “Thank you to everyone who put the bags together. My kids were so excited to eat the school foods that are familiar to them. I wish I would have recorded their reactions when they opened the meal packages. It was like Christmas morning.”

            More important than the compliments, though, was the knowledge that the staff was doing something good during a difficult time.

            Ms. Hummel explained: “When my co-workers and I heard about school buildings closing, we thought about students who rely on school meals. We are very proud that we could make a difference through meaningful work.”

            Mr. Hicks added: “While the days were exhausting, it felt nice to know that our hard work did so much good for our community.”

            Sandi Shupperd concluded: “Just being a part of this process was so gratifying.”

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