Back to school: How 1 district is overcoming school lunch challenges

Back to School

LIVERPOOL, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — No matter what schools look like this fall — whether it be in-person learning, remote, or both — kids still need to eat and many rely on schools for their meals.

Director of Food Services for Liverpool Central Schools Annette Marchbanks says they’re working to overcome obstacles. “What hasn’t changed for us since COVID-19,” she said.

Cafeterias will look a lot different, from where students eat to what’s on the menu. “Our food items have to change, we are going to have to step away from-scratch cooking,” said Marchbanks.

They’ll still hit the same nutritional benchmarks but because of the social distancing protocols, they can’t give kids things like homemade lasagna or turkey and gravy.

Our elementary students will be eating in the classroom. So we will actually pack everything in to-go boxes, bag up the meals, and send them to the classrooms. Our high school and middle school students will come through the line but I think choices will have to be not as broad as they usually are, and again we’ll pack it to go and they’ll take their meal and eat it in a designated area.

Annette Marchbanks, Director of Food Services, Liverpool Central Schools

Since those working in the kitchens will have to pack up so many lunches, it brings an added challenge.

“We don’t have walk-in refrigerators, we don’t have that type of space to stage everything, that’s our biggest challenge,” said Marchbanks.

They’re also working on a plan to make sure kids on the free and reduced lunch program get their meals on the days they’re learning from home.

“If you’re a Monday student and you’re a free reduced child and you get lunch with me, we will send you home with two different boxed lunches, one for Tuesday one for Wednesday, and two different bagged breakfasts. Those will be given to those students before they get on the bus,” said Marchbanks.

Any other parents who want their child to go home with food can also order it and pre-pay for it but Marchbanks says they’re still ironing out the details of how exactly that will work. They’re also trying to figure out how remote-only students on the free and reduced program will get their meals if a parent can’t pick them up.

It’s going to be a team effort. Schools will likely be asking parents to pre-pay for lunch.

“Most of us are asking students to pre-pay because we don’t want to see that money be exchanged at the register. We’ll ask parents to either pre-pay online or to send their child with a check or cash in an envelope, clearly marked with their name so that we can put it on their account in the morning,” said Marchbanks.

Parents can always send children to school with a meal. If a parent cannot afford meals, they are asked to complete the free reduced lunch application that Liverpool schools will send home by the end of August.

Parents will get a determination letter letting them know whether they are eligible. If they do not get that letter from the Liverpool Central School District, they should not assume they’re in the program, even if they receive food stamps or were in the program last year.

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