As Students Go Remote, Ashland Nutrition Services Provides Healthy MealsDec 31, 2020 11:37AM ● By cynthia Whitty
Nutrition Services staff member Linda Doiron prepares fresh salads for remote students. (Photo/supplied)
Many Ashland working families, like other Americans throughout the country, are being caught in the economic fallout from the pandemic. According to a recent PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll, 40 percent of Americans say they or someone in their household has lost a job or income due to the coronavirus. Local families, too, are losing income and jobs and are facing eviction and food insecurity.
When the coronavirus abruptly closed schools on March 13, 2020, Lisa Beaudin, Director of Nutrition Services for Ashland Public Schools, did not hesitate to act to help stressed families. Less than a week later, on March 19, she started grab and go meals to provide free breakfasts and lunches for children attending school remotely from home and applied for funding through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
When students are remote, Families pick up the meals, three breakfasts and three lunches for each child, at the high school each Monday and Wednesday, 3 to 5 p.m. The grab and go meals program is open to children age 21 and under, regardless of income level or address, or if they attend Ashland schools. The USDA reimburses Beaudin for each meal she serves.
“So far this school year, Sept. 14 through Nov. 30, we have distributed 24,522 meals through the grab and go program, and provided 28,218 meals when students attended in person. That’s a total of 52,740 meals prepared and served with love by my amazing staff!” Beaudin said.
“At first we thought the closure would be just a couple of days, and then we heard that it would be two weeks. That’s when we started the garb and go program [on March 19],” Beaudin recalled. “As we all know now, our schools closed for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year, so we fed our remote students until June 30.”
Grab and Go Meals Fed Students Throughout the Summer
“In addition, each Wednesday over the summer, we gave out cases of produce and protein, as part of the USDA Farm to Family program. By partnering with the Metrowest YMCA Clearbrook Swim Club [120 Parker Road, Framingham], families could pick up the food. The Ashland Lions and Neighbor Brigade delivered meals the Y prepared to around 30 families that could not get to the Swim Club,” she said.
Beaudin Continues Grab and Go Meals into 2021
“When school started on Sept. 14, we began providing meals again to the in-school students—Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday—as well as grab and go meals—three days’ worth, two times each week—out of the high school. Initially, the USDA grab and go program was only funded through Dec. 31, 2020, but in October, USDA extended it through the end of the 2021 school year,” Beaudin said. She will continue the grab and go meals through all the school vacations as well.
Beaudin’s staff serves fresh food, not frozen or processed, for both the in-school lunches and the grab and go meals. “We pride ourselves on sending home as much whole food as we can,” she said. “Lots of programs send home processed food because it is easier to store and package. But we make fresh entree salads, sandwiches and wraps, and great, scratch-cooked entrees, like meatloaf, grilled chicken, nachos, chili, and other items that we prepare with whole foods, not processed products. Even our pizza is made with fresh dough. That’s why we always say we are the best restaurant in Ashland!”
“Because we are reimbursed by the USDA for each meal we serve, we want to encourage all children to take advantage of the grab and go meals program. Since it is not funded by the school budget, the USDA is our only source of income to pay the staff, purchase and maintain our equipment, and buy the food.”
“Although registration is not a requirement, we do ask that families sign up each weekend, for one or both days, online at bit.ly/2Is17Zy so that we know how much food to prepare. Since our meals are fresh, signing up helps us ensure that everyone gets a great meal.”