Food service hands out lunch, breakfast, and a little cheer

by Bill Bush

SEDGWICK—While teachers and staff scrambled to prepare technology and curriculum for online instruction, Food Director Stephanie Hoffsommer and her staff began serving meals on a grab-and-go basis.

Prior to spring break, Superintendent Larry Roth asked Hoffsommer to order extra containers (so she ordered 2,000) for transporting food. They also stocked up on plastic bags and paper sacks.

On Monday, Mar. 23, food service personnel handed out pre-packed lunches outside of the elementary school. Cars lined up, and one at a time staff handed the number of meals needed by each family.

To make the pick-up a little more meaningful, teachers took turns helping with the handouts so they could say hi to students. One day the kindergarten and first grade teachers helped, another day the second and third grade teachers assisted, and so forth.

From the initial signup, Hoffsommer expected 100-125 lunches to be served. She was right, as they gave out 112 meals on Monday. But then the numbers jumped to 154 on Tuesday, 186 Wednesday, 190 on Thursday, and 181 on Friday. She thought they might reach 225 this week.

Her instincts proved true. Sedgwick served 230 meals on Monday, Mar. 30.

“It’s been really sad, people losing their jobs or getting laid off,” Hoffsommer said. “Tuesday it hit me really, really, really hard. I e-mailed Julie (elementary school principal Julie Scott) and said, ‘Now I know why God put me in this position.’ You know, I’m helping everybody, my staff’s helping everybody. We’re doing good and that makes me feel better.”

She’s had parents and teachers e-mail her with families interested in taking advantage of the free lunches. They are available to anyone between the ages of 1-18. Hoffsommer added that parents could also just show up between 11 a.m. and noon to receive a lunch, even if they haven’t signed up.

The kitchen staff pack the number of lunches they expect to need, but if it looks like they’re going to run short, staff can make more in only a few minutes.

Included in each lunch is a prepared breakfast for the next day. Hoffsommer said they are serving cereal, but also things like fresh fruit, cheese sticks, milk, juice, French toast sticks, and pancakes on a stick. For cooked items, directions are included on how to correctly heat them.

In case of inclement weather, Hoffsommer said they plan to serve the meals in the white bus barn across the street from the elementary school. The busses will be removed from the barn and parents will be able to drive through to stay dry while receiving the meals. They will place signs directing drivers when that happens.

The plan is to serve meals through May 19, the last day of school. Sedgwick hasn’t provided summer meals in the past, but directed anyone who might need a free lunch to go to Valley Center or Halstead. She didn’t know if that would change this year given the unprecedented circumstances.

In spite of the unique and anxious circumstances, Hoffsommer said it’s been fun to see the families each day.

“I was stressing out last week, but now that we’re delivering meals, I feel good,” Hoffsommer said. “It’s something we can do. That’s what I love about it.”