Food service program serving over a thousand meals per day

OKEECHOBEE — The Okeechobee County School District’s Food Service Program had to adjust quickly when the state government closed down school sites over a month ago.

Food service employees have worked with the transportation department as well as employees from all over the district to make sure kids in Okeechobee were still able to get breakfast and lunch through the week. “We have been very happy with the turnout,” said Okeechobee County School District Food Service Supervisor Lisa Bell. “So far we are averaging about 1,485 lunch meals per day, which is about 33 percent of our normal average daily participation districtwide. This week we added breakfast to the meal bag. When students pick up their lunch, they also have tomorrow’s breakfast in the bag.”

Other school districts in Florida have ran out of food at certain pickup locations in the past week. The Hillsborough County Public School District reported in a post on their official Facebook page that 7% of their sites ran out of food throughout the course of the day on April 15. In a later post, the Hillsborough School District stated they had experienced a 33 percent increase in demand from the prior week, before adding, “members of the student nutrition services team discovered dozens of people taking meals from multiple sites, with some of them selling this free food online for a profit. Our district is disappointed in their behavior and will continue to provide meals for children who need them throughout this closure.”

No fraud seen locally

Food Service Supervisor Bell says her team hasn’t experienced that problem in their district.

“Our bus drivers and food service employees are very familiar with our families and if they saw someone at multiple lines, they would sound the alarm,” explained Ms. Bell. “Technically, someone could go around the system and double-dip, but right now that doesn’t seem to be happening. We are implementing Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) early under emergency feeding. In that program, we see a child, give a meal and mark them off of a tally sheet. Because we are doing a drive-thru method, if we don’t see children, we are taking names and the name of the school the child attends. I am verifying about 30 percent of the names we are taking to make sure they are real people. However, in SFSP, I am allowed to feed any child 18 and under even if they are not students in the Okeechobee school district. So, if grandma has her seven grandchildren with her from another state, we will still feed them.”

Working together = success

Overall, Ms. Bell says the entire Okeechobee County School district has coame together to help make the food delivery program a success.

“We have always had employees with the biggest hearts,” said Ms. Bell. “We all miss the students so much, so anything we can do for them to make this isolation time easier, we are so happy to do. The process of bagging food for each individual is not an easy one. We are fortunate that we have help from the transportation department and employees from all over the district. We have had teachers, para-professionals, secretaries, principals and assistant principals, as well as district administrators helping us make this happen. It truly has been a district-wide effort and every person’s contribution, we have appreciated so much. So all in all, we’re doing great.”

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