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School Nutrition Programs Provide Stability Amidst Pandemic Uncertainty
No-cost meals and friendly service among the core services that have been provided throughout the pandemic, despite the ever-changing landscape

As schools have adapted to the rapidly-changing dynamics of COVID-19, leaving districts fluctuating between in-person and distanced learning, one aspect of schools’ services has been consistent throughout the pandemic: School Nutrition.

From the initial shutdown in March, school nutrition programs have worked to ensure that children in need of nutritious meals are served. Programs have adapted to ever-changing guidelines from local health officials as well as the USDA, which has changed regulations several times. Many districts are now working to provide healthy and nutritious meals via drive-through and walk-up service, with meals provided for all seven days of the week. 

Through a special emergency waiver from the USDA, all meals are offered at no charge to children ages 2-18 at any of the sites that districts are utilizing. 

As San Diego County enters another restricted phase ahead of Thanksgiving, the need for reliable nutrition continues for children and families across the county. 

“Right now we’re doing 98% distance-learning,” says Eric Span, Director of Child Nutrition for Sweetwater Union High School District. “Everything that we are doing right now is designed so that parents are able to pick up multiple meals in one day.” This model has allowed the district to make meals available in a way that ensures that children’s needs are met.

San Ysidro Middle School School Meal Pick up Site

In the Lakeside Union School District, where a hybrid model of in-person and distance learning has been employed, Director Amanda Thomas’s team has re-worked their central kitchen to produce hot meals for in-person learners while maintaining a grab & go operation daily for students who continue to participate in distance learning. This ensures that 100% of the district’s student's nutritional needs are met during the pandemic.

“Grab & go food service is a whole different method that we were not previously exposed to. This is not our standard operation, but we are continuously learning how to strategically craft and package innovative menu items for our students."


Despite the constantly shifting set of rules and requirements, these nutrition leaders and their teams recognize that the core mission of the service they provide is feeding children and helping families. 

“We know that families have been struggling,” says Span. "We lost a lot of jobs, a lot of businesses closed. To be able to help our community, that’s really what being an American is supposed to be about. I love that we get to be a part of taking care of people, that’s what service is all about.”

San Ysidro Middle School School Meal Pick up Site

Says Thomas, "We have a lot of families that rely on these meals. I am a Registered Dietitian, so to me, nutrition is key. Being proud of the meals that we are providing these students and at no cost to the families has been a great thing. And even with all of the changes, my team continues to work hard to produce high-quality meals for our students, and we continue to create and serve a handful of scratch-made meals that our students love." 

"My staff is awesome,” says Span. "I owe everything to them with everything they have been able to do. We don’t think about the fact that the ladies and gentleman who are out there serving these meals are often leaving their families at home. They’re putting themselves out there in the public during this COVID outbreak. They show up with a smile, and they know what they’re doing is helpful to the community because they live in the community.”

"What is Farm to School?" A Lunch & Learn Online Event

San Ysidro Middle School School Meal Pick up Site

The Collective partnered with Janelle Manzano, the Farm to School Program Specialist at San Diego Unified, to host an online educational event for parents, faculty, and teachers who are interested in learning more about Farm to School, its many benefits, and where San Diego Unified's school food comes from!

To watch a recording of this event, please click here.

Meal Distribution at Cajon Valley Union School District

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mark Mendoza, Child Nutrition Service Director for Cajon Valley Union School District, has worked hard with his team to distribute between 10,000 - 14,000 meals a day to their students and families.


During the transition to moving students towards remote learning, Mark and his team had to make quick adjustments to distribute meals at 17 different sites. Mark and his team worked with district leadership to create a plan to produce and distribute meals throughout the community. The team made an ask to the community for support, and over 300 people signed up to help. As the district worked to pack up meals, volunteers would support in handing out meals – with great enthusiasm and sometimes even dressed in fun costumes.

Community members who volunteered to distribute and hand out meals included staff from the warehouse, administrators, IT support, assistant superintendents, parents, police officers and local pastors. “On behalf of our team,” says Mark Mendoza, “we just want to say a special thanks to all of the people who help provide meals for the youth of our community. Your time, effort, care and generosity have all made this possible.”

COVID-19 School Meal Questions

While there are many uncertainties with the COVID-19 pandemic, school districts continue to work day-in and day-out to feed their students, families, and communities. 

The Farm 2 School Collective has answers to some of the most common questions families are asking related to COVID-19 school meals.

For more information on local school meal pick up sites, please visit: https://bit.ly/2Sgl3Ax


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