Union’s Child Nutrition Serves Nearly 1 Million Free Meals

Courtesy Union Public Schools

Since school was closed last spring, Union Public Schools’ Child Nutrition Department has served nearly one million meals to area families.
“These employees are true, brave, unsung heroes who worked during the first stage of Covid-19 – not knowing what they faced as far as how many meals to prepare, changing processes that were new to them due to Covid-19 and drive through pick-up of meals, and encountering obstacles that needed to be overcome,” said Lisa Griffin, director of Child Nutrition.
The Child Nutrition Department has served 927,198 meals since March 23. Approximately 62 Child Nutrition employees worked during this time to provide free meals for children, including breakfast, lunch and supper at curbside delivery sites set up at Jefferson and Ellen Ochoa Elementary Schools and the Union 6th/7th Grade Center. Meals were also delivered for a time at the Union 8th Grade Center as well.
“The amount of food needed to provide 76,000 meals a week was too much to put into our freezers, refrigerators and storerooms, so we had to make ‘storerooms’ in the dining areas,” Griffin said. “We had to get two to three deliveries of food per week and set up tables in the dining rooms to bag items so that employees were socially distanced.”
More than five million items were placed in bags or foil-wrapped by Union employees, she said, noting suppliers were having trouble keeping up with Union’s need for bags, milk and paper goods.
“Normally during a regular school year, our employees produce about 16-20 meals per labor hour.  They were now producing 55 meals per labor hour with only about a third of our workforce working,” Griffin said.
The meals Union served were familiar to students because they were the same items they see on Union’s menus during the regular school year. 
“Locally grown tomatoes, squash, onions, and romaine lettuce often were part of the meals, which not only provided wonderful fresh produce for families, but also helped local farmers to survive financially.  Homemade cards, gifts, flowers, masks, cookies, and thousands of verbal thank you’s from students and families were shared with our employees.  Children would peer over the back seats of cars to catch a glimpse of their favorite Child Nutrition employee, principal, teacher, or security employee.  Many parents said these meals and trips helped children find some normalcy during this time,” Griffin said.
Many people and organizations assisted in the endeavor to provide sustenance and emotional support for children and their families.  Hunger Free Oklahoma and Tulsa Community Food Bank provided free adult meals one day a week; Battle Creek Church provided volunteers; and Frontier Produce provided some free produce and use of their truck and driver to transport meals to two apartment complexes.  Meals on Wheels delivered meals to those shut in at home.  Union administrators, security employees, custodians, teachers, counselors, community school coordinators, aides, ESC employees, staff, and some husbands and wives volunteered and were always there to hand out meals, roll carts full of meals to the curb and sack up milk.
In total, more than 1,800 hours of volunteering occurred with nine to 12 volunteers every day, from March 23 through August.
“Children were especially glad to see familiar faces and received many virtual hugs,” Griffin said. “Teachers would ask children if they were doing their lessons and encourage them to continue. Meals were served no matter what kind of weather – rain, wind, heat, cold.  In fact, many tents were destroyed due to wind!”
“Crisis and dramatic change can either discourage some people or allow them to rise to the challenge to overcome and become more innovative in the way they work,” Griffin said.  “Child Nutrition and Union employees have risen to the challenge and have met the needs of untold numbers of children and families.”

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