Like many school nutrition providers across the country, K-12 by Elior began offering curbside meals for students after the pandemic hit in March. However, when data started showing that some students learning from home weren’t receiving the meals, the foodservice management company started looking for other methods.
“Some parents just couldn't get to schools during the day because they're busy working from home as well,” says K-12 by Elior President Barbara Timm-Brock. “And so, one of our district managers had this idea to try home delivery, and it has just exploded from that point.”
Fourteen school districts have enrolled in Elior’s delivery program since it launched this fall, and by January, the program will be provided to over 100 schools across the country. Here’s a look at how Elior was able to get the program started.
Door-to-Door by K-12 launched at three pilot sites in Milwaukee during late October and quickly scaled up in the following weeks.
Depending on what each district wants, meals can be sent to homes in 2-day, 3-day, and 5-day meal packs, and are either prepared on site in the school districts themselves or are prepackaged and shelf stable. “We're very fortunate that that we have a part of our organization that does packaged USDA-compliant meals for students,” says Timm-Brock. “And so, we've been able to take advantage of that for some of the districts.”
Meals that are prepared on site in districts are frozen and then can be reheated at home. One of the biggest challenges for these meals was getting staff comfortable with the production methods required for multi-day meals. For example, staff had to learn how to properly rack large quantities of meals in the freezer so they could freeze correctly.
Elior also had to certify and train drivers to deliver the meals. “We just adopted and adapted that selection process with our HR and recruiting people and training,” says Timm-Brock. “So, a lot of our current employees qualified to be drivers or service delivery people.”
Another challenge during the pilot was figuring out the routing software so that drivers knew where to drop off the meals. Elior relied on its logistics team to develop the software, which also allows drivers to notify families of deliveries in advance.
Expanding the program
As the program continues to expand, Elior expects to serve over 25,000 students each week in January.
The program has also received some operational improvements. Parents and guardians can now select if they prefer a knock on the door when the meals arrive or they want them to simply be left in front of the door. Texts, calls, email blasts and other forms of communication are now available in both Spanish and English, and school districts have the option to add other items to the deliveries, such as homework packets or coloring and activity sheets.
Timm-Brock says she and her team have been overwhelmed by the support from superintendents, staff and parents, and she expects to keep growing the service as the pandemic continues.
“This is a lot of extra work, and the fact that our entire organization has rallied around it has been sort of inspiring,” she says. “I think it's because they can really see the need. We thought we would go to these superintendents and they'd be like, ‘Yeah, seems like a lot of work,’ and it is, but there's been no hesitation whatsoever. They're like, ‘How can we get food to children? This is so important right now.’ So, this is a win.”