Supporting School Food Systems During a Pandemic
As the winter approaches and COVID-19 cases continue to spike across the country, school must go on. In New Brunswick, school has been held virtually since the start of the school year. Free breakfasts and lunches are offered twice a week, covering all seven days, from ten pickup locations around town. However, for reasons still unclear to us, participation in the free meal distribution has not reached as many students as anticipated. Or as many students as necessary to feel reasonably sure that students and their families are food insecure during this time.
To address some of the potential lapses in participation, the New Brunswick Public Schools have begun delivering meals to families who sign up. They have also enlisted the support of Elijah’s Promise and our FoodCorps service member to survey New Brunswick families about their pandemic foodservice experience and how we can improve on it as a community.
As we begin to contact families to share the most current foodservice information and ask them brief questions, our intention is to do everything in our power to work with the schools and make adjustments necessary to make school food as accessible to as many students as possible.
In the meantime, we are also working with Rutgers University students and staff to develop peer surveys to be distributed by current New Brunswick High School students to other New Brunswick High School students. The results of the surveys, which we hope will number in the hundreds, will help us continue working with a cohort of New Brunswick High School students and other community partners to develop plans with the school board and foodservice staff that will make sure the food served is appropriately shelf-stable without subtracting from the nutritional quality and appeal of the meals.
Of course, none of these structural changes will be impactful long-term without work on the ground to implement them. With our FoodCorps service member, we are in the final stages of planning an array of video-based lessons and programming, ranging from food preservation techniques for at-home with school food, to social/emotional food-based content.
While the pandemic has dramatically changed the ways we intended to implement school-based food system justice this year, we are looking forward to taking this new path. As our partnerships with New Brunswick Public Schools continue to evolve and bear fruit, we know that each success will be another stepping stone towards lasting school food justice.
About the Grantee
Elijah’s Promise harnesses the power of food to break the cycle of poverty, alleviate hunger, and change lives.