Virginia Beach Schools’ Summer Programs Provide Nutritious Meals for Students
When asked what makes them most proud of their summer meals program, District Chef Rachel Amato and Nutrition/Training Coordinator, Valerie Lewis both responded, “#FTK! Feeding the kids.” And the nutrition team with Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS) is doing just that with 37 summer meals sites plus additional summer school nutrition sites.
The nutrition staff ensures breakfast and lunch is available for roughly 65,000 enrolled students Monday through Thursday. In addition, as a result of one of the many United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Summer Food Service waivers that the school division opted into, a 7-day bulk meal was offered to accommodate nutrition needs during the week between the end of the standard school year and when summer school began. These USDA waivers have been necessary for the nutrition department’s ability to accommodate varying needs of students and households. Throughout the summer, the division has served a total of 641,622 meals in the community to children ages 0-18 years old.
“The waivers have been critical for our operations this past year. Parent pick-up and mealtime waivers mean that working parents can get meals for their kids before they head out to work in the morning. Not only that, but the kids can enjoy those meals from the comfort of their home rather than coming out to a site when they have to eat in a congregate setting,” says Amato.
While navigating the challenges of the pandemic, these waivers have allowed the school division to address the needs and tastes of Virginia Beach students. The ability to serve multiple days’ worth of food has enabled the nutrition department to provide bulk meals over winter or holiday breaks – a critical service especially for families that may be facing hardship.
In addition to meal accessibility, meal quality was a primary focus for nutrition staff when designing the summer meals program. Most recently, in coordination with Sandy Point Farm in Newsoms, VA and Land of Promise in Virginia Beach, the nutrition program received fresh corn, cantaloupe and watermelon to incorporate with the summer meals. Lewis also works with dozens of families whose students have dietary restrictions or who require special meals to ensure they also get to enjoy nutritious meals throughout the school year and summer.
These efforts have drawn the praise and attention of students, families and school staff who recognize the incredible role school meals have played in supporting the community through a challenging year. One family even attached a banner to the back of their vehicle thanking nutrition staff for their efforts and dedication.
Meal quality and nutrition education will continue to be a major focus for VBCPS’ Office of Food Services as students head back to school this year. The district will be using a $62,000 grant from No Kid Hungry to purchase and outfit a mobile meals food truck that will also serve as a nutrition education classroom and experiential learning environment for students.
“The goal is to feed as many kids as possible while also educating kids about the most nutritious foods to eat and about where their food comes from. With the food truck and our school gardens, we can really teach students about how these ingredients are grown, how they’re prepared and how they come back to them as school meals.” -Rachel Amato, VBCPS District Chef
With big plans and the support of the entire school division, the team looks forward to seeing the smiling faces of students in the fall who are ready to learn.
Says Lewis, “We’re truly feeding our future. We need to make sure they are fed so that when the time is needed for them to head off and do bigger and better things in this world, they have the energy and food they need to do it.”