Since March 16, 2020, Amy Maclosky, School Nutrition Director with Arlington County Public Schools, and her team have continued to ensure that all children in Arlington County have access to healthy school meals throughout the pandemic. And summer 2021 is no different.
The extension of the USDA flexibilities into the summer bolstered the ability of Arlington County’s Food and Nutrition Services Department to pivot to meet the needs of the community and connect more children to school meals. “These flexibilities are vital tools to help remove the many barriers children face in accessing school meal programs.” At the onset of the pandemic, a $23,000 No Kid Hungry grant allowed Arlington County Public Schools to utilize the waivers to deliver meals to children by setting up school meal drop-off locations throughout the county.
“The waivers have continued to help us to better support hard working families in Arlington and those without access to reliable transportation as we are able to provide meals in bulk and allow caregivers to pick up meals on behalf of their children. It has been especially important during the summer months on top of a global pandemic,” explained Maclosky.
With more parents and guardians coming to meal distribution sites, food and nutrition staff have been able to build meaningful relationships with the community, listen to their concerns, and incorporate their feedback. As an example, many families expressed that food storage and access to kitchen equipment was a barrier, so Maclosky and her staff determined that serving bulk meals multiple days a week would better accommodate Arlington County’s families. Through these interactions, Maclosky and her team are constantly assessing meal sites operations to determine the locations, times, and days of the week that best accommodate children and their families.
In collaboration with Arlington County Public Schools and community partners, meal distribution sites have transformed into hubs for information and resource sharing. During the school year, virtual learners were able to pick-up laptops and books at the lending library while parents received the latest news about school closures. This has continued into the summer, with parents and guardians receiving information about summer programming opportunities throughout the county; eligibility requirements for Pandemic EBT and other public benefits; and any anticipated changes to the new school year in an ever changing environment. This partnership has been critical to not only help nourish kids but support families with other services as well.
Food and Nutrition Services has also continued engaging children this summer through its Farm to School initiative. “It has been important for us to promote the health and well-being of our kids and support our local farmers, who too have been hit hard during the pandemic.” In partnership with local farms, such as Kilmer’s Farm Market, summer meal kits have included fresh peaches, pears, cucumbers, and more.
“Kids are excited to try new fruits and veggies, and it makes it even more special that they are grown not too far from here,” said Maclosky.
Maclosky and her team have been providing meals to students attending summer school as well as at 7 grab-and-go sites throughout the county. “We have developed a really great system for operating school meals both during the school year and summer months – and we have plans in place should anything need to shift our meal service. This all would not be possible without the dedicated food and nutrition staff here at Arlington County Public Schools. They continue to go above and beyond to make sure our kids always have access to school meals,” Maclosky reflects.
This summer the team has already connected more than 29,000 meals to the county’s children, making the total meals served since the onset of the pandemic to more than 2 million. “We are grateful that we have the resources and community support to continue providing free meals to children in the community year-round. We are so proud to be able to support the community as we continue to address challenges of the pandemic,” said Maclosky. With a new school year just a few days away, Arlington County Public Schools Food and Nutrition Services is looking forward to continuing to provide free healthy and nutritious meals to all of Arlington County’s children.