CHESHIRE — When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit Connecticut and schools began to shut down, many families were worried that the school meals their children rely on would no longer be available.
The school district’s food service team quickly sprang into action to ensure that children and their families would have access to appropriate nutrition and meals while school moved to a virtual platform.
“At the end of it all, we served a little more than 155,000 meals, both breakfast and lunch, to our students,” said the Director of Food and Nutrition Services Madeline Diker. “The program worked out really well, but it was quite the effort.”
Diker and her team of food service employees, instructional assistants, custodians, and school nurses all banded together in order to serve and provide meals for all students and their siblings under the age of 18.
“We were really lucky that our staff was so positive and committed,” Diker added. “I have never worked with a more positive and dedicated group of people.”
Diker and her team were even able to facilitate food delivery to the homes of students who were ill, children of first responders, or students who would otherwise be unable to pick up the food.
“We had about 24 families who couldn’t physically pick up food, so we were able to utilize a few bus drivers to help with those deliveries,” she added.
The program, which began in mid-March, was an immediate hit from the start, which initially took Diker by surprise.
“The first day, we were only expecting about 150-175 [students], but we ended up serving about 325 kids that day and it just took off from there,” she explained.
The community also rallied behind Diker and her team, sewing and donating many face masks in order to keep them safe while they prepared meals and stocked cars.
Now that school is out for the summer, Diker is looking forward to what the fall might look like in terms of food service in the local schools. She has been a part of multiple planning meetings, and her staff is now preparing for whatever school might look like in a few months. “We know that whatever is decided for the fall, we will be prepared for it,” she said. “If we have to do meals in the classroom, we’re ready. If we have to do meals in the cafeteria, we’re ready. If we have to do a combination of that and what we just recently did, we will be ready for that, too.”
Ultimately, Diker believes strongly that without the help of the community, the meal program would not have been as successful as it was.
“I am so thankful for my staff, the Dodd Middle School kitchen manager Eileen Mankus, and the businesses that helped us out like Bozzuto’s and Wade’s Dairy Incorporated, for making it such a successful program,” Diker said. “It was quite the operation, but we were so glad to be able to serve so many in our community.”