#AdAstraStrong Derby Public Schools Food Service Department

“Ad astra per aspera” is the state motto of Kansas, which translates to “to the stars through difficulties” – a sentiment that has never felt more true than it does today. It emphasizes our values and optimism that, even when faced with the most difficult hardships, we come together as a state and keep our sights set on what’s important. We launched our #AdAstraStrong campaign to highlight “stars” throughout Kansas who are going above and beyond to give back to their community and provide hope during these challenging times.

We have extended this campaign by partnering with the Kansas Association of Community Foundations to recognize communities and organizations that are working on the frontlines during the COVID-19 pandemic, standing up for racial equality and working to better their local communities. The selected local community foundation promoting its stars will receive a $10,000 donation from our Blue Health Initiatives. Stay tuned for more star stories and stay #AdAstraStrong.

We are excited to recognize our next community star, the Derby Public Schools Food Service Department, which was nominated by the Derby Community Foundation. We talked with the Derby Public Schools Food Service Supervisor, Martha Lawson, about their work to provide meals and fresh produce to members of the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

How did the idea to provide meals to families in the area come about?

There wasn’t really a decision, we just knew that we needed to continue to provide for our families. With the closing of schools, we quickly adjusted to provide school lunches curbside. Once we saw the need, and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) allowed additional flexibility, we added breakfast to the program.

As soon as schools were closed due to COVID-19, we were allowed to switch from the National School Lunch Program to the Summer Food Service Program, which allowed us to provide free meals to all children between the ages of one and 18. As we have received grant funds, we added a free adult meal for the parent or guardian picking up the meal for a child. This is the third year of our Summer Food Service Program. In the past, we knew it was important to provide families with meals, but this year the need is even greater.

Who is eligible for the curbside meals and how are they distributed?

The curbside sack lunches are operating under the USDA Summer Food Service Program, which provides meals to all children ages one to 18. There are no address or income restrictions, and families with younger children as well as families from neighboring towns were also able to participate.

Meals are distributed at three sites: Wineteer Elementary, Oaklawn Elementary and the Central Kitchen by district employees, teachers, student volunteers and volunteers from the Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps. A parent or guardian drives up to the pick-up location and shows their flyer that says how many children they have who need meals. Then, the server puts the bags on a tray that is then placed beside the driver’s window for a no-contact pick-up.

In March, April and May, we distributed a total of 110,847 meals, and we are continuing to distribute meals through at least July 31. However, we will continue to adjust to the situation to meet the needs of area families.

What is included in the meals?

Each meal meets all Summer Meals Program requirements. Breakfast includes, at a minimum, milk, a half cup fruit or vegetable and 1 ounce of grain. However, we usually include a piece of fresh fruit or a fruit cup and 2 ounces of grain along with a carton of milk.

Lunch includes, at a minimum, milk, two or more servings of fruit or vegetable, 1 ounce of grain and 2 ounces of meat or meat alternative. We usually include milk, fruit or vegetable juice, fresh fruit or a fruit cup, a sandwich or canned bean dip and chips or crackers.

Tell us about how you have worked to coordinate the effort to deliver boxes of produce from farmers to families?

Liberty Fruit Company from Kansas City contacted us as they were trying to find customers who could receive an entire truckload of produce. It was incredibly daunting at first, but we had already mastered the drive through sack lunches, so we started planning. The community of Derby was amazing as they showed up to volunteer and distribute the produce. We distributed a total of 2,400 boxes of produce at two locations over two days.

Who was eligible to receive the Farmers to Families produce boxes?

The Farmers to Families boxes were given out with no restrictions and no questions asked. There were no address or income requirements. Families were given one box of produce and families of six or more were given two. Everyone benefits from free fresh fruits and vegetables, and we were grateful to be able to offer this to our community.

What is something you’d like the people in your community to know? Or, something you’d like to tell all of them?

The food service staff were at work on Monday, March 23, the week following spring break, and were ready to work in a way they never had before and with many uncertainties. They came to work even though they worried about their health and the health of their families. They were in the kitchen at 5 a.m. because they love their kids and they have servant hearts. All food staff would have been paid for their regular wages until the end of the school year but, they were still ready to serve on the first day of the school closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The community of Derby is amazing. We received donations from the Derby Community Foundation to support both the Farmers to Families program and school meals. We had countless volunteers ready to serve. The families and community members who went through the lines for lunches or produce boxes were awesome. The servers were gifted with hot cocoa when it was 30 degrees and they were outside handing out lunches. They were gifted with flowers and other gifts on School Lunch Hero Day. Through grants from the Derby Community Foundation, Kansas Health Foundation and Sunflower Foundation, we were able to provide free adult meals to parents or guardians on International Picnic Day on June 18, and families were able to pick up their ready-made picnic. We plan to provide free meals to adults who pick up a child meal beginning July 13 as long as funds allow. I would like to thank everyone who has been involved in these efforts for their continued support as we provide much-needed food for our communities.

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