How Our Program Adapted to the Pandemic
Each summer, OFS works to ensure children have access to nutritious food when school is out. When the pandemic brought school to a sudden halt last March, we went into emergency response mode in order to support families reeling from the disruptions, including illnesses and job losses. With new flexibilities from the USDA regarding how and where free food can be served, we were able to begin our Summer Food Service Program early. . . and continue it to this day. We’ve distributed more than 900,000 breakfasts and lunches to children 18 and under in the past year.
The unparalleled support of our community has enabled us to implement a program 10 times larger than what we normally operate. “In a typical summer, we serve 2,000 meals a week, and now we’re serving 20,000,” OFS Director of Child and Family Nutrition Brian Wieher explains. “What we’ve done is work with community locations, such as libraries and community centers, to flip our model to do drive-through, contactless distributions three days a week. We’ve kept it consistent so the community would know they could rely on the food.”
But that’s not all. Wieher credits strong partnerships with organizations like the St. Louis County Library for making it possible to provide meals to adults and families as well. By building on the foundation of reliable summer meal distributions, OFS was able to take advantage of the new distribution network to also offer family food boxes. An additional 690,030 meals and 481,800 pounds of fresh produce were provided at summer food sites to families. “These are all different programs that we’ve brought into the same space in order to be more efficient with our staff and volunteers,” Wieher elaborates. “None of it would have been possible without an intelligent, competent, strong staff who can be relied on and trusted.”
When asked what lessons he has learned from working to address food insecurity during this crisis, Wieher cautions, “We still have our heads down and are running forward at full speed. It’s not over yet.” However, there are clearly some positive outcomes from having been tested. “The crisis has allowed us to build an even stronger and more resilient network that will be here even after the pandemic is over.”
To learn more about the Summer Meals Program, please visit our web page.
Originally published by Operation Food Search: Source