SPRINGFIELD TWP. The Springfield Local School District’s buildings may be closed to students, but the staff continues to care for their students.
Business Manager Dustin Boswell said as they learned of the potential school closure, they became concerned about their population of students that count on school meals as a primary part of their daily dietary needs.
“As we learned more about the shutdowns and restrictions, we realized that even more families would likely need assistance,” said Boswell.
The Ohio Department of Education applied for a waiver through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to allow for a modified “summer serving” program to be implemented during the mandated school closure. The mandate allowed for school buildings with 50 percent or more of its students receiving free and reduced students to serve free meals to any child ages 1 to 18 within the district regardless of enrollment in the school. It was set up so schools could participate in the program, but they were not required to do so.
“At Springfield, we realized the importance of providing this service to our families and called together several of our food service managers to develop a plan for the coming weeks,” said Boswell.
He said Elizabeth Ray and Donna Walker spent the days before schools closed planning menus and working out logistics to move food around to accommodate the modified program. Managers Melissa Errington and Jeannie Lewis came to assist with planning as soon as they finished serving at their respective locations. It was teamwork and together all the managers put together the details to operate food service “to go” for the next several weeks. They obtained the necessary supplies and took it upon themselves to go to local GFS (Gordon Food Service) locations to pick up serving products the schools normally do not stock.
“They all committed to working the first week to work out the kinks before rotating the rest of the eager staff into the rotation,” Boswell said.
Boswell added that while much of the rest of the staff began to prepare to work from home, the cafeteria managers came to work on the first day off to prepare and serve meals to whomever showed up. At that time, they asked for people to pre-register, but it was not required. Two locations were set up to serve the meals to the students and they both currently continue to serve weekdays from 11 a.m. to noon. One is Spring Hill Elementary School and the other is the Lakemore Municipal Building.
The school coordinated its efforts with village officials.
“We understood that there was a need to provide a serving location in that community for individuals with transportation concerns,” said Boswell.
Village officials, Mayor Rich Cole, Council President Sam Ray, Fiscal Officer Tracy Fast and Councilwoman Heather Anderson.
Lakemore Mayor Rich Cole said they are so thankful that the district administration decided and agreed to add the Lakemore Municipal building as a secondary meal distribution site.
“Lakemore is very much a pedestrian community and so many families and children walk each morning for pickup, who otherwise might not be able to make it out to Spring Hill for meals,” he said. “We cannot thank Springfield Schools enough for this.”
“During the first week, we served 230 meals on average,” Boswell added. “We now serve about 325 meals on average each day.”
Each child receives lunch, usually a hot lunch, and breakfast for the next day. The meals continue to meet the stringent quality and nutritional standards that are part of the ongoing food service program.
“Our staff graciously agreed to continue serving the week of our scheduled spring break to ensure that families continued to receive assistance if needed,” Boswell said.
During the beginning of the program, the staff worked from one kitchen. With the increase in meals provided the staff has expanded to two kitchens providing a safe, socially distanced operation for the staff. Managers have since been assisted by their entire staff on a rotating basis to provide meals for pickup as well as coordinating delivering meals to families that cannot make it to the site.
It is a grab and go lunch and breakfast. Students sometimes walk to the buildings to get their lunch and some parents come by car. All that is asked is how many meals they need for their students. Everything is prepackaged and ready for pickup.
For those that cannot get to either location for pickup, they can call 330-798-1105 to make delivery arrangements if needed.
“We have continued to add additional safety precautions as new recommendations are released,” Boswell said. “Meals are now transferred on a table to reduce any physical contact between staff and participants. Thanks to the handiwork of Vickie Fuerst, mother of High School Assistant Principal Danielle Starkey, the preparation and serving staff at both locations have received fabric face masks to wear during this program.
They are also working with several other individuals to procure additional fabric masks for the staff.
The district will receive reimbursement for each meal served under the USDA program. This covers the cost of the food served and the labor to prepare these meals.
“The school closure will still negatively impact the cafeteria budget as we have lost the reimbursement on thousands of meals we would have normally served,” Boswell said. “Our staff has worked very hard to use food and supplies that we already had in stock to ensure the district does not have to incur any further expenses.”
Springfield Superintendent Chuck Sincere said this is all new for everyone and they are proud of Boswell, the administrators, teachers, cafeteria workers and everyone involved.
“It was incredible to see everybody come together and make it happen,” he said.