When COVID-19 hit last spring, the nutrition team at Bellflower Unified School District in Bellflower, Calif., switched to offering curbside meals. Like many districts, however, they saw meal counts decrease. Before the pandemic, the district typically fed around 7,000 students each day, but with curbside, that dwindled to about 500.
“A lot of families were saying, ‘I'm not able to come out to you. I don't have transportation,’ or, ‘I work, and I can't leave my child at home unattended,’ things like that,” says Nutrition Services Director Candice Crump.
In order to reach more students, the nutrition team partnered with the transportation department at Hemet Unified School District, another school district in the state, to bring meals straight to students’ homes.
The weekly deliveries contain seven days’ worth of scratch-made meals, and since starting the program in the fall, Bellflower USD been serving meals to around 3,000 to 4,000 kids.
The district started the meal deliveries at its six schools that are enrolled in the Community Eligibility Provision. The nutrition team advertised the deliveries through email blasts and calls, and let parents and guardians know they would be automatically signed up for delivery, but they could opt out if they wanted.
The bus driver and up to three nutrition staff members are in charge of distributing the meals along the route. The district spent time measuring how many employees could fit safely on the bus, taking into account social distancing requirements. It also implemented other safety practices, such as rolling down windows to improve air circulation and providing masks, gloves and sanitizer.
When the program first launched, parents would receive a three- to four-hour delivery window. With improved efficiency, however, the district can now deliver meals within an hour of starting the route.
Looking to expand
The home deliveries have been so popular that parents at other schools in the district, where curbside is still available, have asked if the nutrition team would also deliver meals to them. The team would like to expand the service to all schools in the district sometime this school year, but one challenge is making sure they have enough staff to run the deliveries.
“The biggest thing right now is staffing, making sure that we have enough staff from day to day to do the deliveries,” says Crump, who adds that they expect number of meals served would more than double once they expanded the program.
The team is figuring out if they could pull some staff working the curbside sites over to delivery. They also would not automatically enroll families and instead have parents decide to opt in. “That way, we won't start out with such a high number of meals to send out,” says Crump.
Whenever the district is able to roll out deliveries to every school, the nutrition team will be ready and eager to serve more meals, Crump says.
“Our staff are superheroes. […] They put together all of the meals, they package the meals, they put it onto the buses, we’re basically Uber Eats,” she says. “And actually, our name is BUSD Eats, that's the name of the program. We basically are dropping off contactless meals, right at our families' doorsteps, and it's all because of our employees are just out there, making sure that our kids are fed.”