Long ‘summer’ for ARRSD food service workers

  • Athol Royalston Regional School District Food Services Director Carolyn Brown, left, in the kitchen with workers who prepare meals — breakfast and lunch — that feed about 900 students each weekday. ATHOL DAILY NEWS/GREG VINE

  • Food service workers of the Athol Royalston Regional School District pack meals to be distributed to students in the district. ATHOL DAILY NEWS/GREG VINE

  • Food service workers of the Athol Royalston Regional School District prepare the meals that feed some 900 students each weekday.  ATHOL DAILY NEWS/GREG VINE

For Athol Daily News
Published: 5/22/2020 3:11:19 PM
Modified: 5/22/2020 3:11:06 PM

ATHOL — “We do a summer feeding program,” explained Athol Royalston Regional School District Food Services Director Carolyn Brown, “so, we just switched from doing the regular school lunch program to running it like we would for the summer. So, it really was an easy transition because my staff works in the summertime.”

While she makes it sound easy, Brown and her staff are up early and working hard to make sure every student in the district is fed during the week while schools remain closed.

“I have three teacher’s aids that work with me now, every day,” she said, “and I have 13 of my 15 employees helping out. We’re always doing our breakfasts a day ahead; we give them a breakfast which is either muffins or cereal, things along those lines, along with a juice, graham crackers — things like that. We usually get that done a day ahead so we can just count them out and have them ready to go.

“Then everybody does their lunches. Like today, we made sandwiches for tomorrow, so that we can get ahead for tomorrow. And they get a fruit and a juice and a milk, with some chips and a vegetable — every day.”

But sandwiches aren’t all the students get for lunch during the week.

“We actually purchased microwavable containers,” said Brown, “and we’ve done things like hamburger and gravy with mashed potatoes. This week, they got cheeseburgers and fries. So, they can go home and we have the meals all cooked and they just have to re-heat them.

“The buses roll out of here at 9 o’clock in the morning. We’re giving them two meals, and we try to give them a hot meal two days a week, whether it is macaroni and cheese, or something like that in a container they’re able to microwave. So, they can just re-heat and eat it on their own time.”

Asked about a favorite of the students, Brown said, “Actually, we had fish sticks yesterday and believe it or not, they really liked it.”

Brown said when schools first shut down, she and her colleagues were feeding around 816 students a day. That number has ballooned to between 890 and 913. That translates into about 1,800 meals each day going home to students, many of whom are food insecure.

“We have a staff member on every bus and they hand those kids and families their meals,” said Brown with justifiable pride, “and off they go.”

Generally, she said, staff morale is good.

“It fluctuates. Some days are worse than others, people are more tired than others. But we try to do the best we can to keep everybody’s morale up and make sure everyone is as safe as possible. They have gloves and masks, and we have hand wipes and sanitizer. Everybody seems to be OK. The hard part is trying to get all those meals done in a two-hour time frame.”

She said morale is highest when the meals are being distributed.

“(The students and families) are really appreciative. We can really feel that when we go out on the buses. You see it with the kids; they give us pictures and cards and things they they’ve made. And we get letters in the mail. So, it’s been a great response.”

Brown, who has been with the ARRSD for six years, serving as director of Food Services for four of those years, said she expects the “mobile food service” will continue at least through the end of August.

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