DISD food service workers: Feeding the hungry

DISD
Houston Elementary’s team of Food Service Heroes eagerly awaited the arrival of parents and students who came daily to pick up breakfast and lunch during the six-months when schools were closed because of the coronavirus. “During the shutdown, we used DISD Suburbans to deliver food to 41 key sites (compared to 15 sites the previous year), including all of our campuses where buses served as meal distribution centers…as well as many homes and low-income apartment complexes in all areas of our community,” said DISD Food Service Director Debbie Hosford.

While much of the nation has hit the pause button during Covid-19, hunger has proved relentless -- preying upon society’s most vulnerable citizens: children. With roughly two-thirds of Denison public school children already enrolled in the district’s Free and Reduced Meal Plan, Covid simply made matters worse.

“I am so proud of the many ways in which our Denison ISD food service staff have stepped up to meet the food and nutrition needs of our children during this pandemic,” said Debbie Hosford, DISD’s Aramark Food Service Director. “Our chefs, cafeteria workers, cooks and managers have met every challenge head-on, providing many thousands of nutritious meals and snacks for all Denison children in need, regardless of the risks and dangers. Our singular goal over the past 13 months has been to ensure that no child ever goes hungry. Needless to say, this has required a lot of diligence, creativity, flexibility and teamwork on the part of our entire staff.”

Rhonda Hagan, DHS Food Service Manager (left) and DISD Head Chef Alicia Rivera continue to serve delicious, chef-inspired meals every day in socially distanced cafeterias. “I feel extremely blessed to live and work in a community and school district that truly care about our children and families,” said Hagan. “It really is great to be a Yellow Jacket!”

According to Hosford, the district’s Food Service team began feeding hungry kids last March when the Coronavirus closed schools, and they haven’t stopped since. “During the shutdown, we used DISD Suburbans to deliver food to 41 key sites (compared to 15 sites the previous year), including all of our campuses where buses served as meal distribution centers…as well as many homes and low-income apartment complexes in all areas of our community,” said Hosford. “Wherever the need, our people simply showed up, every single day, with food for anyone who needed it. We tried to make it as convenient as possible for our families by providing breakfast and lunch each day at one pickup time, and enough meals for the entire weekend on Fridays. We basically became a 24/7 food and nutrition lifeline for our children and their families, literally overnight, because hunger doesn’t wait. We’ve been on the front lines ever since, doing what we love to do: serving nutritious food to our kids and families.”

When in-person classes resumed after the six-month shutdown, most DISD’s food service workers returned to their cafeteria kitchens to prepare and serve meals to students in socially distanced classrooms – but no one has forgotten what it felt like to work and serve on the front lines.

A group of Terrell Texan students gathered with their school cafeteria heroes who prepared and distributed breakfast and lunch seven days a week during the pandemic shutdown. “The kids were so happy to receive the food and get to talk with someone for a little while,” said Zaundra McKinney, Scott Middle School Cafeteria Manager. “It was an honor and privilege to be able to help.”

“For us, it was seeing the kids’ faces,” said Zaundra McKinney, Scott Middle School Cafeteria Manager. “They were so happy to receive the food and get to talk with someone other than their parents…and sometimes simply to get out of the house for a little while. My staff received pictures, notes, gifts, and so much gratitude for the food. The parents were so grateful and sure didn’t want it to end. It was an honor and privilege to be able to help.”

DHS Cafeteria Manager Rhonda Hagan says her team will never forget the people they met on their daily journeys. “Grandparents taking care of children, families with special needs children, parents working from home with children, all of them hungry and always grateful,” said Hagan. “My route had 21 stops where we served breakfast, lunch and dinner for all seven days of the week. As difficult as this task was, I found myself overjoyed by the outpouring of love and appreciation from those we were serving in our community and the fellowship of my coworkers in providing all those meals. I feel extremely blessed to live and work in a community that truly cares about its children and families. It really is great to be a Yellow Jacket!”

Terrell’s dedicated cafeteria staff found time on a busy day to pose with their “Lunch Lady” t-shirts that they wore daily to deliver meals to students and families, a salute to the previous generation’s hard-working “Rosie the Riveter” heroes.