Greenfield schools have served 202,868 meals to children since pandemic hit

  • Masked cafeteria workers fill grab-and-go meal bags. As of Monday, 202,868 meals had been distributed to children since the start of the pandemic. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • A masked cafeteria worker adds fresh fruit to a grab-and-go meal bag. As of Monday, 202,868 meals had been distributed to children since the start of the pandemic. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Greenfield School Department food service staff send a virtual message to children and their families. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 9/24/2020 4:12:48 PM

GREENFIELD — The Greenfield School Department has kept children ages 18 and under fed throughout the pandemic with the help of U.S. Department of Agriculture funding, serving 202,868 meals as of Monday.

The district’s Food Service Director Eliza Calkins said she and her staff started serving the free meals in mid-March, when the pandemic arrived in Franklin County, causing schools to shut down and transition to virtual learning.

She said the program has been extended through Dec. 31, or whenever funding runs out. However, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has requested a waiver that would keep the program going through the end of the school year in June.

“We’re so proud of what we’ve been able to do,” Calkins said. “My staff has worked tirelessly to make sure kids are fed.”

Each year, the school district receives funding for its summer meals program. This year’s efforts have simply been an extension of that program, which is open to all children who live in Greenfield, even if they attend schools in other districts.

Calkins — along with kitchen leads Starr Hurd and Teri Poirier, and about 25 staff members, or sometimes less in the summer — prepared, packed and served the grab-and-go meals from the Greenfield Middle School cafeteria.

“When the school year ended, so did people’s contracts, but very few opted out of working throughout the summer,” she noted. “The School Committee approved time-and-half for the ones who stayed, because a few did opt out, making it harder on those who stayed. It was very difficult work, but everyone rolled with the changes.”

Feeding Greenfield’s children was Calkins’ and her staff’s priority, she said. They would finishing preparing and packing the meals each day and then either bring them to parents curbside or, in some cases, deliver meals to people’s homes. About 100 families were approved for home delivery, which is done for those with extenuating circumstances.

Meals are also distributed at Greenfield High School, Newton Elementary School, Greenfield Gardens, Leyden Woods, Oak Courts, the Franklin County Fairgrounds and Foster’s Supermarket. Calkins said meals will stop being distributed at the fairgrounds and supermarket at the end of the month, when temperatures get too cold.

“There’s really no shelter for my staff at those places,” she said. “We’ll make sure meals find a way to everyone who wants them, though.”

Home delivery began Sept. 18, and Calkins said it’s going well so far. Parents have provided lots of positive feedback, and the district is “working out the kinks.”

“It’s so important that we provide this service while children are learning remotely,” Calkins said.

Greenfield schools closed in mid-March and went to fully remote learning through the end of the year. This summer, the School Committee voted to start this school year, 2020 to 2021, remotely, as well.

“We open at 10 a.m. and serve until 1 p.m. at all of the pickup sites,” Calkins said. “Parents walk or drive to a site and receive the meals they need to feed their children breakfast and lunch. We assume breakfast is for the following day. We serve both hot and cold meals, trying to alternate each day.”

Superintendent Jordana Harper said the Greenfield School Department is proud of the work its food service staff members have been doing.

“Of course, children are always our first priority, and it’s incredible that these people have worked so hard to keep them fed,” Harper said. “More than 200,000 meals served in six months is amazing. We are all very grateful.”

Calkins said meals are made from scratch, like shepherd’s pie and smoky barbecue pulled pork chili, and some hot meals that are packed cold come with instructions for heating them.

Food service staff held a grant-funded raffle over the summer, giving out a scooter and helmet sets, as well as gift cards to Bootlegger’s Footwear on the Mohawk Trail, and continue to work with community partners, Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee Co. and Apex Orchards, Calkins said. Dean’s Beans donated $15,000 to the meals program, along with a pound of coffee for each cafeteria staff member, while Apex donated several pallets of apples.

Meals are provided Monday through Friday, and Friday’s pickup or delivery includes meals for the weekend. Meals are distributed on an honor system. Joan Bitters, Calkins’ administrative assistant, keeps all of the records for the program, and Calkins said her entire staff has gone above and beyond.

“It’s touching to see everyone’s attitude about feeding the community’s children,” she said. “Everyone feels so good about it and is so dedicated.”

For more information, call the Food Service Department at 413-772-1335 or visit the Greenfield School Lunch Facebook page.

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or afritz@recorder.com.




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