As the school year wraps up, the Houston Independent School District is revving up its nutrition outreach efforts with the launch of curbside summer meals for students and the Fresh Bus produce delivery program.
The programs come on the heels of the district’s successful community food distribution initiative, which ran for nine weeks following HISD’s closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Coordinated by HISD in partnership with the Houston Food Bank, the program, provided nearly 7 million pounds of food to more than 160,000 families during that time.
“When everything around us was shutting down due to the pandemic, it became essential for us to be there for our students and their families,” HISD Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan said. “I’m proud of the hard work and dedication that went into this effort. Remarkably, we were able to impact so many families.”
The district is aiming to build upon that success with the launch if it’s annual and state-mandated summer meals program, which begins June 1. Families will be able to pick up packaged student meals twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays at one of 71 designated schools across the district. Families will receive several days’ worth of food per child.
HISD Meal Programs At a Glance
HISD Curbside Summer Meals
Begins June 1
Pick up on Mondays and Thursdays at 71 schools
Meals are free to ages 1-18
Proof of enrollment or birth certificate required for children not in the vehicle
When Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan arrived at the
HISD Hexser T. Holliday Food Service Center, she was eager to tour facility
operations, but precautions had to be taken first.
Upon entering the facility, her temperature was taken just
footsteps inside the door — a safety precaution and clear sign of the times as
the world endures the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In the weeks since our district closed, we’ve worked hard
to meet the needs of our community,” Lathan said. “This visit is a great
opportunity to get an up-close look at how the entire food distribution process
Feeding more than 10,000 families five days a week during a
pandemic is no easy task. It’s an effort that requires the collaboration of
multiple departments across the district to bring it all together.
In just over a month, HISD — working together with the
Houston Food Bank — has distributed 2 million pounds of food to more than
60,000 families. That range spans from March 14 through April 18.
“I appreciate the spotlight we’ve received, but it’s not
just us,” HISD Nutrition Services Officer Betti Wiggins said, referencing the
child nutrition department she leads. “We couldn’t have accomplished this
without the help of Community Partnerships and HISD Police.”
HISD Nutrition Services Officer Betti Wiggins will share her
experiences regarding emergency community feeding during a webinar sponsored by
food service publications.
Wiggins will participate in a panel discussion to explore
how school districts are utilizing different methods to provide nutritious
meals through the COVID-19 pandemic. The “K-12 Child Nutrition: Serving students and families during COVID-19” webinar will be held at 1 p.m. Tuesday, April 21.
The webinar is sponsored by the editorial teams of Nation’s
Restaurant News, Restaurant Hospitality, and Food Management magazines. She
will be joined by Minneapolis Public Schools Director of Culinary and Wellness
Services Bertrand Weber and Londonderry School District Director of Dining
Services Amanda Venezia.
In a matter of eight days, the food distribution sites
operated by the Houston Independent School District in partnership with the
Houston Food Bank assisted nearly 40,000 families.
The 61 food distributions served approximately 1 million
pounds of food to families in need before being canceled late Wednesday. Nearly
2,000 staff and volunteers assisted with the efforts and were able to serve
5,000 families per day throughout HISD.
The cancellation of the distribution sites will remain in
effect as the district re-evaluates its process for safely delivering this
service to students and families.
When it comes to meeting the nutritional needs of HISD students, Nutrition Services’ work isn’t limited to the cafeteria. Their efforts go beyond the plate and all the way to the athletic field.
Nutrition Services Dietitian Nan Cramer and Chef Trainer Brittany Jones recently visited Delmar Stadium to serve up samples of green power smoothies — a tasty blend of apple, banana, soy milk, kale, no-nut butter, and vanilla extract — and to educate coaches, players, and parents on the impact of proper nutrition on athletes.
He eagerly sampled the smoothie and gave his approval.
Special Events Planner Nicole Bean has always been an organizer at heart, and that’s how she approaches scheduling and planning events in HISD’s catering department Houston Eats.
Bean is responsible for planning and overseeing events and creating the orders for them. Her attention to detail and ability to accommodate the needs of Houston Eats’ customers has proven to be an asset in her role.
“If you have 30 schools that want something all at the same time, it’s physically hard to be at all those places,” Bean said. “We only have so many delivery vans, so we have to be really creative in how we schedule. We also offer pickups. We really do try to accommodate everybody.”
Parents flooded the Lantrip Elementary School cafeteria Thursday as they joined their children — clad in pilgrim hats, white bonnets, and colorful turkey headbands — for a nutritious Thanksgiving lunch.
The annual celebration hosted by HISD’s Nutrition Services has attracted thousands of families to school cafeterias for more than 50 years. This year’s menu included roasted turkey with gravy, cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, a fresh fruit medley, and ice cream.
“We get a ton of volunteers, but it takes everyone,” Lantrip Principal Magdalena Strickland said, noting that about half of the school’s 700 families participate in the Thanksgiving lunch each year. “When parents know you care for their kids, they’ll go above and beyond.”
HISD Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan sat at a long white table in the Burnet Elementary School cafeteria on Monday, nibbling on a chicken biscuit and chatting with the students seated alongside her.
Gathered for breakfast on the first day of school, the conversation quickly turned into an impromptu Spanish lesson as students from the dual language school translated the menu — chicken biscuits, raisins, apple juice, and milk — into Spanish.
“Leche?” Lathan repeated carefully after hearing the Spanish word for milk. A wide smile then spread across her face. “You know what I like? Tres leches. And lot of it,” she said, laughing.