NEW BUFFALO — New Buffalo Area Schools Food Service Director Patty Iazzetto made a presentation about her department’s ongoing response to the coronavirus pandemic to the Board of Education on Monday, April 12.
She said the Food Service staff have worked tirelessly over the past year to make the program work.
“These ladies are flexible, creative, strong and most of all dedicated to New Buffalo Area Schools,” she said, adding that kitchen leaders Maria Maroney and Kathy Dohner “lead our department with professionalism, confidence and knowledge.”
Iazzetto said the kitchen staff was already following many of the guidelines recommended by the CDC when the pandemic first hit such as frequently sanitizing surfaces and always wearing gloves since they were ServeSafe trained. Additional safety protocols such as distancing and symptom tracking were adopted as COVID spread. She noted that it was a big adjustment to work while wearing masks once that requirement had been implemented – just one of the many challenges they have faced in a year full of changes.
When the district switched to remote learning she said the Food Service staff instantly became frontline essential staff.
“Our program changed overnight from working behind the scenes to full exposure during a pandemic. We had to transform from preparing plated meals with a variety of choices, amazing salad bars and hot food daily. And we had to figure out how to package ready to eat meals that we were going to serve curbside.”
Initially Iazzetto said she and Superintendent Dr. Jeff Leslie decided to distribute meals at the Elementary School, the High School, Judy’s Motel, Oak View Apartments and the New Buffalo Township Library.
“The first day we had 128 meals picked up. We weren’t sure what to prepare for the next. By the third day we had 930 meals picked up,” she said, adding that the Converge Church parking lot was added as a distribution site.
Iazzetto said it was the first time many families experienced food insecurity. A big change made during the shutdown was allowing the Food Service to distribute frozen food that could be cooked at home.
“It allowed us to provide a better variety of food to the kids,” she said, adding that there were many packaging challenges such as the inclusion of cooking instructions.
Iazzetto said supplies began running out almost immediately as every school cafeteria in the nation was ordering the same food, bags, gloves and other necessities. She said the community came through with bags while gloves came at a cost, and staff members including Leslie, officer Michael Troup, Chuck Lonske and Karen Lord helped with the curbside food distribution.
Supplementing the effort to feed and support the district’s students were Water’s Edge Church (through its Blessings in a Backpack program), Neighbor by Neighbor, anonymous donors, Harbor Country Rotary, Artisan Farms (with over 400 pounds of lettuce from April through June) and the USDA’s Farmers to Families fruits and vegetables program.
“By the end of June we’d served 17,828 meals,” Iazzetto said.
She said the current school year has involved intense, challenging training that is still going on.
With students back in school, she said spacing solutions have included serving breakfast in the classroom, and spacing kids apart during lunch.
Iazzetto said all meals have been provided free of charge this school year – a move which has simplified the process.
“During the pandemic, Plan B was always a necessity. Most of our orders have an ‘out of stock’ written on them,” she said, adding that she sometimes has to run out to a store to get a needed ingredient such as rice.
“We currently serve 267 breakfasts on an average, and 332 lanes on average. Our elementary kitchen feeds one grade at a time in the dining room. Each student has an assigned seat and the meals are delivered to the seat right before the students arrive,” she said.
Iazzetto said there are now three dining rooms at the Middle/High School to increase distancing – the existing dining area, the gymnasium commons and the Blue Gym. She said about 30 students are pre-ordering their meals and pick them up in a special serving line packed and ready to go.
Iazzetto said small number of curbside meals (an average of three) are still being distributed at the high school for Bison Virtual Academy students. She said snacks for pupils in the BASE after-school program and Homework Club are free through the Child and Adult Care Feeding Program.
Also during the April 12 New Buffalo Area Schools Board of Education meeting:
The board authorized Elementary School Principal Adam Bowen to submit a Pokagon Fund grant application requesting Book Vending Machines – a program that Bowen said both the PTO and the Rotary Club of Harbor Country contacted him about.
Board members agreed to employ Gregory “Ty” Siuda, a recent New Buffalo High School graduate, in the position of assistant track coach (pending background check approval).
Leslie reported that the Middle and High School Bands recently received top Division 1 ratings in the annual Band Festival (which involved recording videos of the bands performing and sending them to judges).