Features Magazine News Volume 70, Issue 3

AUHSD Free Food Services During the Pandemic

by Eric Wickboldt

Graphic by Zeyada Negasi

During the lockdown, many students who normally rely on purchasable school lunches, along with free or reduced-cost school lunch programs, have been left with limited options for staying full during the day. This issue has been further exaggerated for many families because of financial constraints relating to the loss of jobs and the increase in unemployment due to COVID-19. 

In response to this issue, the Acalanes Union High School District (AUHSD) introduced their free community meals program, which provides free meals to students that normally attend AUHSD schools. As Socorro Martinez, the lead chef for the Las Lomas kitchen, says, “We are open for the community, we’re serving breakfast and lunch to all children 18 years old and younger…running the service requires hard work and a lot of responsibilities.” The service runs from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on weekdays, with breakfast running from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. on those days. The service can be found at Las Lomas, Campolindo, Acalanes, and Miramonte high schools. 

In order to provide the meals, the kitchen staff must work difficult hours and adhere to safety protocol. According to Rebecca Ward, the district head of food services, “The lead for each kitchen arrives at 5:30 a.m. every day to get the day started with the Senior Assistant coming in at 6:30 a.m.” The kitchens also have to deal with staffing issues. “Due to current staffing shortages most of the kitchens are running with only 4 staff members total.” The kitchen staff must adhere to the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) guidelines, which “govern all aspects of food safety such as how food is stored in walk-ins & refrigerators, the proper procedure for cleaning and sanitizing all kitchen surfaces in addition to the cold holding temperatures, 41 degrees or below & hot holding temperatures, 135 degrees or above.” The kitchen staff are required to wear masks and gloves at all times, and the food pickup area is sanitized in between each customer.

Normally, a free program like this would not be possible. Las Lomas is able to provide this through a program known as the Seamless Summer Option. This program is open to districts meeting a requirement where 50% of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. While AUHSD averages less than 10% of qualifying students, the district has received special waivers from the United States Department of Agriculture. The USDA governs the National School Breakfast and Lunch programs that allow them to run the program due to extenuating circumstances caused by the coronavirus.

The AUHSD food services program provides a total of 20,000 meals a week across all distribution sites. It is important to families with students who may struggle to provide meals to their children otherwise. As Ward says, “Because so many people are out of work, food insecurity is on the rise in our community…We have been so grateful to be able to offer this program.”