Utica Community Schools serves 1.8 million meals since pandemic’s beginning

By: Kara Szymanski | C&G Newspapers | Published April 6, 2021

 Food and Nutrition Services established distribution sites at 14 UCS schools and community sites, with COVID-19 safety measures in place, to offer free meals for all students.

Food and Nutrition Services established distribution sites at 14 UCS schools and community sites, with COVID-19 safety measures in place, to offer free meals for all students.

Photo provided by Tim McAvoy

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UTICA/SHELBY TOWNSHIP/STERLING HEIGHTS — More than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic began, Utica Community Schools marked the anniversary by highlighting the efforts of its food service staff, which helped many local students during this difficult time.

When the state of Michigan directed school districts to close their buildings March 13, 2020, UCS Food and Nutrition Services jumped into action to set up food distribution service for local students to ensure that they had the meals they needed.

On March 17, 2020, Food and Nutrition Services had a districtwide remote food distribution plan set up. The district established distribution sites at 14 UCS schools and community sites, with COVID-19 safety measures in place, to offer free to-go meals for all students regardless of where they went to school or if they qualified for food assistance.

The district reported that over a year later, it has served more than 1.8 million meals as Food and Nutrition Services staff became essential workers during the global pandemic.

Interim Superintendent Robert Monroe said the district recognized the relationship between learning and nutrition and that many students might have been facing a difficult time getting the food they needed while having to stay home. Many students rely on their school’s food service while attending school to get the food they need.

“We recognize the direct link between student learning and nutrition, and thanks to the extraordinary work of our food service team, we did not miss a beat when it came to providing nutritious meals to families. Our district remains committed to supporting the needs of our students and providing core services during this global pandemic,” he stated in a press release.

The district said that community members had reached out during the start of the pandemic to ask how they could help and provide food distribution information to neighbors.

Mandy Sosnowski, director of Food and Nutrition Services, said that when they first came up with the plan and started putting together the meals, they didn’t know exactly how many they would need. They just continued getting the food together and giving it to students.

“The cars kept coming, and we kept making more food. People were so happy to get the meals, some even cried. After that, there was no doubt; we were doing the right thing for our community,” she said in a press release.

The staff distributed the meals in all kinds of weather.

“The food service staff was very happy to be able to help their community in their time of need. The staff knew it would be a challenge, but they knew they could do it, and they did do it. In food service, we know that anything is possible when we work together,” Sosnowski said in an email interview with C & G Newspapers.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the free meal waivers were introduced in March 2020 due to COVID-19, which allowed schools the flexibility to feed students. The USDA has extended the waivers through this summer. The UCS staff is still getting the meals to students who are learning remotely.

“We will continue to serve meals as long as our community needs it,” said Sosnowski.

According to UCS, 1 in 6 children in Macomb County suffers from food insecurity. For more information on the district’s remote food service, visit uticak12.org/remotefoodservice.

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