Academy Salutes School Nutrition Services Members on School Lunch Hero Day

05/01/2020 – Members of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics who work in the area of school nutrition services are dedicated to providing healthful meals for the next generation. On School Lunch Hero Day, and every day, the Academy celebrates the hard work and commitment of these members in helping children develop healthful habits that will last a lifetime.

Their efforts are substantially complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Academy is highlighting the efforts of these school foodservice professionals as they navigate what today's "serving line" looks like.

On March 16, the nearly 800 foodservice professionals at Gwinnett County, Ga., public schools began offering meals at 68 of the district's 135 sites. Director Karen Hallford, MS, RD, LD, says families can visit the school site of their choice and pick up meals via a drive-through. In addition, nearly 500 school buses deliver meals. "The two methods combined have resulted in 1.4 million meals over the past six weeks," said Hallford.

With its schools closed, the Austin, Texas, independent school district is providing healthful and tasty meals through curbside pickup and bus delivery. "We have 18 curbside locations and over 60 bus stops serving breakfast and lunch packaged together Monday through Friday," said Ryan Cengel, MS, MA, RD, LDN, CPT, SNS, the district's registered dietitian. "On Friday, families receive meals for Saturday and Sunday for each child. Since March 23, we have averaged around 15,000 meals per day. That's over 430,000 meals in total. I am incredibly proud of the hard work our staff has taken to make sure that our students still have the nutrition they need to thrive during these difficult times."

The Grapevine-Colleyville, Texas, independent school district is serving meals to their community by curbside pick-up and mobile and home delivery for families with certain circumstances. "We are currently operating under the National School Breakfast and Lunch Program Seamless Summer Program. Meals are distributed weekly, each Wednesday, serving over 22,000 meals in one day. The staff works tirelessly over the course of only a few days to prepare all meals served," said Laura Brookover-Ybarra, RDN, SNS, dietitian for Grapevine-Colleyville ISD Nutrition Services.

Leading up to the closure of Portland, Ore. public schools on March 12, Whitney Ellersick, MS, RDN, senior director of nutrition services and her team closely monitored the guidance and shifted services to ensure food safety and sanitation. Within four days, Ellersick's team had gathered to train everyone while drivers and warehousemen gathered perishable foods from all the schools to be repurposed for sack meals. "I am most proud of my managers who have been by my side, quickly adapting and shifting with each new request or need, Ellersick said. "Three of our managers are RDNs, and others come with foodservice, culinary, business and complimentary backgrounds. Their passion for serving the community and our children never wavers. They inspire me."

For more details about these school lunch heroes and other RDNs on the front lines, read these COVID-19 stories and experiences.