SPOKANE, Wash. - When school districts started to close as a response to the COVID-19 outbreaks in mid-March, many faced the issue of continuing to provide meals for students in need. With the help of her team, Kim Elkins, the Nutrition Director for the Mead School District, made it her
SPOKANE, Wash. - When school districts started to close as a response to the COVID-19 outbreaks in mid-March, many faced the issue of continuing to provide meals for students in need. With the help of her team, Kim Elkins, the Nutrition Director for the Mead School District, made it her mission to provide kids in the district a dish of normalcy by continuing to provide breakfast and lunch. The district, comprised of seven elementary and one middle schools, set out to serve cold meals at 16 different locations that families could take home to heat up for the kids. Between March and August, a total of 238,044 breakfasts and lunches were served to the community. With help from Assistant Director of Nutrition Services, Mark Oswalt and their team, Kim coordinated with the transportation department to deliver meals from the school’s warehouses to the distribution sites. They’d be set up for 30 minute windows so that kids from more rural areas would have access without far drives. Several school bus drivers helped distribute the meals, some even dressing up in themed outfits to bring some fun to the pickup. The kids loved it and some would follow suit and dress up in themes as well. As the 2020-2021 school year starts, the Spokane Indians are excited to feature Kim as a Hometown Hero for the impact she has made on our community, especially over the past six months. Kim’s efforts helped ensure that kids were still being fed. The Spokane Indians had the chance to chat with Kim to find out more on this important project and the work that went into making it such a success.
SI: How long have you served as the Nutrition Director with the Mead School District? What is your favorite part of the job?
KE: Eight years, the best part is working with a great team that cares immensely about making sure kids are fed well-balanced meals that support learning.
SI: What was your particular role in implementing the meal pickup program?
KE: I coordinated the change from the normal serving model to one we had never implemented before. This included an overhaul of staff responsibilities, procurement of available supplies and food, communication with district and community members, transportation of meals, and implementing staff safety protocols. COVID-19 changed functions of every nutrition program. All school nutrition professionals in the area were happy to accept the challenge to ensure kids were fed during closures.
SI: What were some of the biggest challenges that you faced to successfully implement this program?
KE: Building the airplane in the air! Different aspects of staffing may have been one of the biggest challenges. We needed to create a new type of work environment that made our available staff feel safe while producing meals for our community with continually evolving health and safety recommendations. With schools across the nation facing similar obstacles, it was a challenge finding food and packaging supplies to keep our program running smoothly. There was undoubtedly a lot of coordination that made this successful.
SI: Who were the key players along the way?
KE: Mark Oswalt, Assistant Director of Nutrition Services; Brian Liberg, Director of Transportation; Jolene Andres, Executive Assistant for the Superintendent Communication Expert; and our nutrition and transportation team members. It was inspiring to see people from other school departments pitch in to feed kids.
SI: 238,044 meals served for breakfast and lunch is an incredible amount, how does that compare to typical numbers for the school district?
KE: Typically, we serve 6,000 meals per day that is spread across 13 buildings with 45 staff. With the meal pickup program, we were producing meals out of 2 kitchens with staff who assembled and then helped hand out meals with our bus drivers.
SI: Now that the 2020-2021 school year has begun, what plans does your team have in place moving forward?
KE: U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the extension of free summer meals through December 31st. We are excited to offer free breakfast and lunch to our students attending school in person starting September 14th. We are also offering free weekly meal kits for families whose children are choosing full online learning and hybrid learners for non-in person school days. It is a big challenge to operate our meal programs in the schools in addition to a “to go” meal program. But again, our team has stepped up and are working to make sure it happens knowing how important food is for student learning.
SI: Outside of your work with the school district, what hobbies do you have?
KE: I ride my three horses in endurance races and on local trails, garden, and cook.
SI: What is your favorite quote?
KE: “Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end. It’s not a day when you lounge around doing nothing; it’s a day you’ve had everything to do and you’ve done it.” – Margaret Thatcher
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