It’s hard to find any aspect of education that isn’t different this year than before. Food services for students in the Essex Westford School District (EWSD) is among those variations.
Senior Child Nutrition Manager Scott Fay thinks that, overall, his staff has been able to handle what’s being asked of his department.
“Surprisingly well, actually,” Fay said about the first couple weeks of the academic year. “We started from the ground up with our brand new systems where we can, and things are going really well. I'm surprised that we haven't run into more issues than what we're seeing.”
Fay said some of those issues are a nice problem to have and are a result of the Aug. 31 announcement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture which said school districts would be able to provide free meals to all students, continuing what the EWSD’s Child Nutrition Program has been doing since school buildings were shut down in March.
Before that announcement, Fay was expecting to serve a significantly-lower volume of meals once school started. Because of that, he had not filled vacancies left by a pair of retirements over the summer. Fay said he could not only use those additional two employees, but another one or two beyond that are needed to fully compliment his current staff and the demands it’s facing.
Not only is the Child Nutrition Program serving up free meals to students inside school buildings, but it’s also continued to hand out packaged food at its three locations throughout the community for the children who are learning remotely including those at the Rec Kids Supported Learning Spaces.
Fay estimates that 80 percent of production is being conducted at Essex High, where all of it was being done in the spring through the remainder of the school year and then during the summer, while “skeleton crews” at the other buildings help facilitate the rest of the operations. That includes delivering breakfast to classrooms in the morning before preparing for kids to pick up lunches from the cafeteria.
The amount of food on hand has generally been more than necessary. Fay said some families pre-ordered meals for pick up and didn’t end up collecting those, which led to a good amount of wasted food. He also said there was only one “small” issue of a building running out of food for students but did not elaborate on what that entailed.
“We're in good shape on that side,” said Fay. “Our staff has been around for a while. They're really good, and they're good at anticipating what our [demand] will be. They've done an amazing job.”
The first days of school were a little on the slower side compared to the current average, which Fay said is normal, yet they still saw more meals being served than the average for the first few weeks of school last year. The numbers have steadily increased since the Sept. 8 start date, and he expects them to keep climbing over the next five to six weeks.
Anyone interested in joining the Child Nutrition Program staff is encouraged to email Fay at email@example.com.