Twenty thousand meals were prepared and distributed to District 112 families the first week of distance learning on Nov. 19. Around 2,500 students, roughly 25% of the Eastern Carver County Schools student body, are receiving five-day meal kits.
Kim Franta, director of Nutrition Services for District 112, said her department doesn't mind the madness.
"We're helping families in need, but at the same time we're helping our program staff working. I had to lay off some staff, but the good part is, I was able to keep on everyone that wanted to work. Some took voluntary lay-off," Franta said.
The meal kits, free to all students in the district between pre-K and 12th grade, are supported through federal funding.
"I had a conversation with a mom last week. She told me her family is not in need of the food, but rather it's a tangible way to keep her son connected with school. He gets a little bit of school experience with familiar foods for breakfast and lunch," Franta said.
District 112 Nutrition Services is staying true to its mission, using as many local providers as possible. Much of the prepared meals is from scratch.
Franta said the staff, spread out around the district in various buildings, prepared 2,200 pounds of taco meat for a meal kit last week. This week's cheesy bread meal kit will be followed by a pasta-themed meal next week, with homemade meat marinara sauce.
"We tried to not lose sight of our mission. We try to use as little pre-packed items possible. Obviously there are things like muffins, cereal. With our Thanksgiving meal kit, I asked our staff to make 850 homemade apple crisp servings and they were able to do it over two days," Franta said.
A blueberry crisp dessert will be included in a 12-day meal kit over winter break.
"They have been troopers," said Franta, who has been with the district for 2-1/2 years, of her staff. "I know it's not what a lot of them signed up for, what they'd prefer to be doing. They've had positive attitudes. They understand that what we are doing is important for the kids, for the community. I couldn't ask for a better staff."
The district asks families to sign-up each Thursday for the following week distribution. It gives staff a ballpark idea to know how many meals to prepare. Families are e-mailed each Thursday by the District.
Pick-up locations on Wednesdays are Chaska High School and Chaska Middle School East, which includes an evening time slot. Meal kits are distributed on Thursday mornings at Chanhassen High School.
Franta said delivery is available as well. The district, under contract with transportation services, uses buses to distribute meals to families that are unable to pick up the meals.
"I think if you look at everything right now, people are reinventing how they are living, how they are working. We're the same. This year, we are saying 'Just go with it.' That's our motto. We can't really anticipate everything that will happen. We just have to come up with solutions for everything that does come up."
Franta said her staff has a "pretty good handle of things" — evidenced by serving 800 cars over 2-1/2 hours for the Thanksgiving meal, no car waiting more than four minutes — and they are ready for families to reach out.
"It's a juggling act. It's like putting together a puzzle. We're adjusting, we're learning as we go. We're here to help families and help our community," Franta said.