The biggest challenge for K-12 meal programs in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic has been to feed students learning remotely, a drastic change from their traditional in-school feeding model. Initially, efforts focused on curbside meal pack pickup with possible extensions of the model by using school buses and vans to take the food to some additional drop-off sites in the district. Eventually, some programs began individual home delivery in which students and families get preordered meal packs at their residences.
This is obviously a logistical challenge and a number of alternatives have been used by different meal programs, such as employing school buses that already had been used to stopping at individual homes, or at least at a centrally located point around several homes.
In New Orleans, contract management company Chartwells K12 has gone a slightly different route by partnering with a local firm called d’Livery, which ordinarily delivers meals from commercial restaurants to customers around the city, to serve home-learning students from several local charter schools that Chartwells operates meal programs for.
In December, Food Management spoke with District Manager Paul Butler and District Chef Tom Beckmann about the program.
FM: How many schools and how many students are involved in the program and how wide a geographic area does the program cover?
A: Chartwells has been serving New Orleans schools since 2006, now with nearly 36,000 students across 38 campuses that span the greater New Orleans area from the West Bank to New Orleans East. Since the pandemic first closed schools in March, we served over 1 million meals throughout the spring and summer months to ensure kids remained fed and make it so there was one less thing parents needed to worry about. Our d’Livery program is unique to the Arise, First Line and Collegiate charter school networks that include 13 of our campuses in the city.
FM: How did the idea come about and when did it launch?
A: When school isn’t in session or kids are learning remotely, the issues around food insecurity are higher and more prevalent, and as a result of COVID-19, it’s estimated that one in four kids experience hunger. Chartwells is committed to feeding kids throughout the year and to being a reliable resource for our school partners and communities. We’re always looking for ways to be innovative and make getting healthy meals to kids and families easier, and that’s really what led us to our partnership with d’Livery. In September, parents were beginning to return to work and New Orleans schools were going remote with virtual learning, so we needed to find a way to bring our school meal program from cafeterias to kitchen tables and knew home delivery was the best way to make that happen.
FM: How many students are getting the deliveries?
A: It’s been an ever-changing school year as we started with almost all of our student population remote learning and now see some students returning to school for in-person instruction. We’re consistently delivering meals to 1,800 to 1,900 students as well as serving those who are back in schools. Our program has been great as we’ve been able to scale it accordingly to continue reaching every student that we can, whether that’s at their home or in a cafeteria.
A: One of our goals when we started the program was to make it easy for kids and families to get meals, and the best way we could think to do that was to go directly to students and provide home delivery service. Once we began our partnership with d’Livery to make that a reality, schools sent out communications to students’ families to make them aware of the program and offered the opportunity for parents to sign up their children and enroll their home address for delivery. In addition to providing our meal counts, the information is used by d’Livery to plan routing of the individual deliveries. To make sure kids continue receiving meals and make it easy for parents, families only have to enroll in the program once, and then they receive meal kits every week.
FM: How many are delivered at a time and what is the menu like?
A: When we first began providing meal kits, we decided that delivering five days’ worth of meals would be more helpful and make it easy for families to plan. It also allows us to keep the delivery process as efficient as possible. The meals include five breakfasts and five lunches featuring everything from fresh fruit and vegetables, breakfast cereal, sandwich items, milk, and kid favorites from Chartwells’ Student Choice program including our Chicken Ranch Wrap and Crispy Chicken Sandwich.
FM: Where is production done?
A: We’re making deliveries four days a week and our teams are cooking and preparing meal kits at three of our schools. With the school closures and remote learning, our school lunch heroes have been getting creative with assembly lines set up safely in the cafeterias and taking great care to ensure each kit has all the ingredients for a happy and healthy meal.