“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 Prairie Hills USD 113 Food Program, nominated by the Sabetha Community Foundation. We recently talked with Brook Brubeck, former director of the food program, about the efforts of the Prairie Hills food service to plan and distribute the meals.
Can you describe the Prairie Hills USD 113 Food Program during COVID-19?
On March 18, Gov. Laura Kelly issued the stay-at-home order and closed all schools in Kansas. When this happened, our food program immediately began planning for remote feeding. We collaborated with the child nutrition and wellness department of the Kansas State Department of Education to create the program. To spread the word, we updated and created waivers with assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). There was also a lot of coordination with school kitchen managers as my team and I began serving grab-and-go meals on March 23.
We had three kitchens with 12 food program employees, myself included, preparing the meals for 10 meal sites. Families could drive up and receive a free meal bag containing a breakfast and lunch for every child aged 18 and under. We also had a mobile route, delivering meals to households that were unable to make it to the regular sites for various reasons. For example, some home daycares had too many children to fit in a vehicle, some households did not have a vehicle, and the households having to quarantine could not make it to the pick-up site.
What inspired you to create this program?
The mission of every school nutrition program is simply to feed hungry children. It’s what we do every day, and it’s something we are passionate about. When the decision was made to close schools, we began to do everything we could to ensure we could continue to feed our kids.
How many families have taken advantage of this program and is it ongoing?
Between March 23 and June 30, we served 96,512 meals. The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) that we were operating under does not require that we take names or household information, so we served as many people as we could. Although the program is not intended to be ongoing, the USDA recently issued a new waiver that would allow the district to serve free meals again, so they may be starting up again in the near future.
What is included in the meal and how did you put them together?
The meals contained a breakfast and a lunch for each child. We also featured many student favorites like chicken nuggets and french fries, pancakes and sausage and some new favorites, as well. Each bag also had fruits and veggies, juice and milk. We were always mindful of continuing to offer healthy choices like the fruits and vegetables and whole grain bread.
Food for the meals was either purchased individually wrapped and cupped or we did the packaging ourselves. We kept all items frozen or refrigerated until ready for bagging, then we had an assembly line of volunteers bagging the meals. Meals were sent out frozen with heating instructions to ensure proper food safety.