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Maintaining School Foodservice Operations in Ohio during COVID-19: "This [Was] Not the Time to Sit Back and Watch"

Published Date May 14, 2022
Research Type

Abstract

The COVID-19-related lockdowns led to school closures across the United States, cutting off critical resources for nutritious food. Foodservice employees emerged as frontline workers; understanding their experiences is critical to generate innovations for program operations and viability. The purpose of this cross-sectional study was to characterize COVID-19-related foodservice adaptations for summer and school year meal provision. Public school district foodservice administrators across Ohio were surveyed in December 2020. Questions related to meal provision before, during, and after COVID-19-related school closures. Results indicate the majority of districts continued providing meals upon their closure in Spring 2020 (n = 182, 87.1%); fewer did so in Summer (n = 88, 42.1%) and Fall (n = 32, 15.3%). In Spring and Summer, most districts that offered meals functioned as 'open sites' (67.0% and 87.5%, respectively), not limiting food receipt to district-affiliated students. Most districts employed a pick-up system for food distribution (76-84% across seasons), though some used a combination of approaches or changed their approach within-season. Qualitatively, districts reported both "successes" (e.g., supporting students) and "challenges" (e.g., supply chain). Despite being ill-prepared, districts responded quickly and flexibly to demands of the pandemic. This analysis provides insight for future practice (e.g., establishing community partnerships) and policy (e.g., bolstering local food systems).