Cafeteria workers contribute to city-wide efforts; deliver meals to youth

These+two+students+among+others+received+their+lunch+pack+for+the+week.+From+3+to+5+p.m.+on+Mondays%2C+Wednesdays+and+Fridays%2C+families+can+pick+up+meals.

Trinity Dutton

These two students among others received their lunch pack for the week. From 3 to 5 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, families can pick up meals.

Cate Bikales

When Lincoln students were in the building, Nutrition Services Lead Trinity Dutton worked by herself in the kitchen. She was in charge of prepping for breakfast, cooking entrees for lunch and doing the dishes afterward.  

After learning this spring that COVID-19 would force her to leave her job, Dutton was worried and unsure what would happen. Now stationed at Bridger Elementary School in Southeast Portland, Dutton is one of the many workers whose job has been adjusted by PPS to provide families and students with the meals they need.

Normally, Portland Public Schools (PPS) students can get breakfast and a hot meal for lunch in the cafeteria every day during school. After the abrupt transition to online learning at the end of March, the future of these meal services was uncertain.

From March through August, Portland Public Schools (PPS) Nutrition Services opened 15 school sites where students could pick up meals to take home to eat. When the new school year started, PPS expanded the number of sites serving meals to 38 schools. 

PPS Nutrition Services has also started providing deliveries directly to people’s homes who have requested this service.

At each site, a whole team of workers is necessary to provide students with meals. Only the nutrition services staff are actually packing the meals, but bus drivers help to deliver the meals and custodians at each site are making it possible to use the kitchens.

“We’re doing everything so differently now, and the people working [on this]… have just been so creative in their ideas about how to make this work and how to provide our pickup services in… [the] most convenient and accessible [way],” Amy DeSimone, Program Manager for PPS Nutrition Services, said. “Their creativity and ingenuity has been really beneficial to our department.”

Because of their work, PPS alone served 1.4 million meals to students since the end of March. Not only students benefited, either– no nutrition-related school staff had to be laid off. 

“We found a job for everybody,” DeSimone said. “A lot of people’s jobs look quite different than they have before, but everybody has a role to play in making our operations work.”

Dutton is one of them.

After students made the switch to online learning, Dutton was asked if she wanted to volunteer her time toward preparing meals for students. Because she takes care of her elderly mother in addition to working, Dutton decided to decline the volunteer offer. In the fall, she was stationed at Bridger.

At Bridger, Dutton works five to six hours a day, similar to her hours at Lincoln, along with two other workers preparing grab-and-go lunches. From 3 to 5 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the families come to pick up their lunches. 

Between these three days, a total of seven days worth of breakfast and lunch meals are packed together for students to take home.

Meals served to students are similar to what they would be getting during the school year. Some items served at breakfast include banana bread, cereal and muffins. Lunches could be anything from sandwiches to taco salad.

The only difference between meals served currently and previously in school is that now, the food goes home cold. Parents can get heating instructions through the PPS Nutrition Services website. 

When preparing the food, nutrition services teams are doing their best to take precautionary measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“When we come in, we wash our hands and put our gloves on, and we would already have our mask on before entering the building,” Dutton said. “Even with our masks on, we still have our own designated [prep stations].”

Dutton said that one of the hardest parts about her current job is not seeing students she would see daily at Lincoln, but she is grateful to be able to serve meals to the students who need it. 

“It makes you feel good that you’re helping these people that need a little extra help,” she said. “I would say probably the best part of my [normal] job is making sure that students are getting a healthy lunch and breakfast.”

“This is huge,” said Cynthia Roberts, Grant High School’s business manager. “Now it’s not just students on free and reduced lunch that can get a meal. Any family who needs meals for free can now receive them– you don’t even have to give your name or student ID or anything.””

— Cynthia Roberts

On Sept. 22, PPS announced that through their partnership with the United States Department of Agriculture, they will be able to provide school meals for all students at no cost at this time, according to the PPS Nutrition Services website.

This is huge,” said Cynthia Roberts, Grant High School’s business manager. “Now it’s not just students on free and reduced lunch that can get a meal. Any family who needs meals for free can now receive them– you don’t even have to give your name or student ID or anything.”

The nutrition service staff, working behind the scenes in PPS, demonstrate that administration members and teachers aren’t the only ones working hard to help students thrive through an online learning environment.

“We want to get food to the people who need the food,” DeSimone said. “[And we are.] Meals are getting to people who need them, especially households that might experience food insecurity or households who may have had a two-person income and now only have one person working.”

 

 

 

 

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