Maize starts food program due to COVID-19

Abigail Grantham, Reporter

USD 266 has started a food program for all students 18 and younger attending Maize to receive free breakfast and lunches during the worldwide pandemic. One in five Maize students receive free or reduced meals during the regular school year.

Megan Barnard, the food service director for USD 266, has put together this program for many reasons

“Our district leadership and food service team knew it would be even more important to offer meals during this time,” Barnard said. “Even before spring break, we were already making plans to utilize this program to serve our community. Food is a basic need. Our students cannot focus on learning without food. The pandemic has created uncertainty for many people, we felt if we could provide meals for kids we could alleviate at least one stress for Maize families.”

This program operates with volunteers food service, maintenance, and custodial volunteers are helping hand out the meals. The meals are prepared by a group of 25 volunteers from food service who work staggered shifts, five days a week to build the meals while maintaining a safe distance from one another. 

“The food service and maintenance staff try to make the meal pickups fun for students by wearing costumes and interacting with students as much as possible,” Barnard said.

One custodian has even started wearing inflatable costumes to put smiles on the kids faces.

The USD 266 Food Service Department is providing the meals under the COVID-19 Waiver for the Seamless Summer Option of the Summer Food Service Program. USDA has opened up the Free Summer lunch program to all schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.  We provide the meals and then get federal and statement reimbursement for the meals served.

Free meals are served to kids on Mondays and Wednesdays at Maize Middle School from 10:30-11:30 a.m and at Maize South Elementary from 12-1 p.m. No questions are asked of participants. Students do need to be present to receive the meals. On Mondays, two breakfasts and two lunches are served. On Wednesday, three breakfasts and 3 lunches are served. 

This program has become very big helping many families. 

“The food service team prepares 1,325 participants for each pick up. We have served 18,256 free meals since March 25,” Barnard said.

Barnard said she hope our meals have made the stay-at-home order easier for our community.

“We hope access to fruits, vegetables, and whole-grains can maintain the health of our students who might have limited access to these more expensive items,” she said. 

During this hard time Barnard, has seen how the Maize staff is not just here for a paycheck.

“Joe Naputi and the maintenance department have helped us move coolers, boxes, products, and have been actively devoting three hours out of their day every Monday and Wednesday to serve the public and direct traffic,” Barnard said. “The custodial teams at both MMS and MSE have maintained clean work environments in the kitchens, received deliveries from our vendors and even worked at meal pick up which is above and beyond the scope of their duties.” 

Angie Jones, district copy center, came in to help us print food safety cards to put in the meal bags, this is necessary to ensure the food is stored correctly. Parent Caroline Flett has offered to sew masks for the food service staff. 

The Maize Foundation acquired us the “grocery” bags we put the meals in and helped acquire a donation of Chick-fil-A kids’ meal vouchers we can provide families in the event that we run out of meals to serve at pick up. 

Cindy Betzen, district office, makes meal deliveries to families who are immune-compromised, lack transportation or have been quarantined.   

“You may have noticed the district is using #OneMa1zeCares and we want students to know that the Maize district is full of folks that truly do care about the well-being of kids,” Barnard said.

COVID-19 has effected many individuals in and outside of the district.

“During the first week, many of the food service volunteers had spouses lose their jobs, many have their own children at home who needed extra help with their continuous learning or revised childcare plans, one employee is even dealing with an extended family member who has passed away from COVID-19,” Barnard said. “But during this time, they all keep coming back to help prepare meals. They keep working through difficult situations to fulfill a need for those in our community who are dealing with the exact same struggles during this time.”

With COVID-19 being so easily spreadable, the Maize staff has taken many safety precautions for everyone’s health.

“We always washed hands between tasks,” Barnard said. “But we are taking additional precautions like refraining from working within 6 ft. of a coworker, wearing gloves when unloading orders for food, increased hand washing between tasks, after touching cardboard or packaging, wearing homemade masks when maintaining a 6ft distance is not possible, increased the frequency of disinfecting surfaces like stainless steel and door handles.”