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In lighter-than-usual year, RSS nutrition staff serve more than 100,000 summer meals

SALISBURY — Distributing 100,000 meals sounds like a feat, but this was a light year for Rowan-Salisbury Schools’ summer meals program, which wrapped up on Thursday.

Nutrition Financial Specialist Meredith Honeycutt on Monday sent out the tallies for June and July as the last update for this summer’s program. The district had distributed about 45,000 breakfasts, 54,000 lunches and 1,500 snacks all over the county.

RSS Nutrition Director Lisa Altmann said the district would distribute about 168,000 meals in a typical year. She expected it to be down this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and families being more cautious.

Last summer was an outlier on the other end of the spectrum. The district was able to deliver meals to kids the same way it was during the end of last spring semester, when schools were shut down due to the pandemic. As a result, from June to July in 2020, the district distributed more than 400,000 meals.

This year, RSS returned to the normal format, sending vehicles into neighborhoods to serve as meal hubs and working with host sites like the local YMCA branch to give out food. The program is free for students.

There were some upsides to this year. Serving meals to the students in the district’s expanded summer programs was a boost for participating this year. More than 10% of students enrolled in the voluntary programs this year.

Altmann said nutrition staff worry when there is uncertainty about whether students have access to food, but she and the staff do the program to make sure the opposite is true as well as to be positive role models.

“I’ve been called to do this work,” Altmann said. “It’s very rewarding to make sure our students and children in the community are taken care of.”

The nutrition department has a quick turnaround from summer meals to the regular school year. Nutrition managers start their regular 10-month calendars on Wednesday. They will start receiving deliveries and prepping all the food for about 18,000 kids who will start school on Aug. 11.

“We go from one to another without a lot of break time,” Altmann said.

Altmann and the supervisors try to keep up a strong presence in the dining rooms and kitchens. Before the pandemic, Altmann would often choose a class to eat with, listen to the kids stories. and ask them what they think about the food.

Meals will be free for every student this school year, but whether Summit Virtual Academy students will be able to get meals is still up in the air. Altmann said she hopes there will be clarity on the issue after a state webinar on Wednesday.

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