As a result of their most recent community health needs assessment, Ascension St. Vincent Indiana identified food security as one of three significant needs for those living in their service areas. Ascension St. Vincent joined No Kid Hungry’s statewide campaign to increase school breakfast available for all students, especially those who rely on free and reduced-price meals to address the identified need. Each of Ascension St. Vincent’s 16 hospitals assigned on-site leads to oversee the 3-year school breakfast program and work collaboratively with their sponsored school’s food service director.
The rural Ascension St. Vincent Salem hospital and West Washington Elementary School (WWES) joined forces. The School Nutrition Director for the district, Joni Muchler, was interested in learning more about the different breakfast options. Katelyn Kutemeier, the Community Wellness Coordinator for Purdue Extension, was aware of the initiative Ascension St. Vincent was working on and quickly connected Joni with the hospital. The hospital supported the Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC) model implemented at WWES by purchasing 24 Igloo coolers to store the food and facilitate its transport to the classrooms. When asked about the impact the coolers have had on the newly implemented Breakfast After the Bell model at the school, Joni exclaims, “We couldn’t have done this without the coolers!” Additionally, the Ascension St. Vincent Salem Hospital employees held drives to collect much-needed items like trash bags, sanitizer, and cleaning wipes for the WWES classrooms.
With the emergence of COVID-19, schools face many new challenges that impact their ability to provide nutrition to their students. One requirement is to ensure students maintain 6ft of the distance between each other during in-person classroom instruction and lunch hour. Joni shares that implementing the BIC model was the only logical solution for WWES. “I can say that at the beginning of the year, numbers were around 195-197; now we are hanging around 275 most days! Again, with COVID and students coming and going for quarantine, it just depends. But we have definitely had a huge increase, and having universal free meals has bumped us up even more.” Currently, the elementary school’s K-8 classes are taking their breakfast in the classrooms, mainly due to COVID-19 and the need for social distancing. However, Joni is hopeful that once things return to “normal,” BIC can continue for grades. At present, Joni reports that the WWES teachers like BIC and the kids love the options.