By James Hanlon
Leader Staff Writer
Oxford Community Schools’ Nutrition Services Department has served over 100,000 meals distributed to Oxford Community Schools’ children in need during COVID-19 closure. The milestone was surpassed on June 3.
Schools across the country are the source of a healthy breakfast and lunch five days a week for students in need. When the school closure began March 16, the option was given by the Michigan Department of Education for school districts to provide free meals for their children in need.
Nutrition Services Director Karen Bissett quickly organized a plan, ordered food, and assembled staff to serve the community. In the first two weeks of the closure, Nutrition Services staff packed and distributed an astounding 38,467 meals. The program was open to all children, and children did not need to attend Oxford schools.
Those first few weeks were chaotic and overwhelming. “It was more than what one department could do,” Bissett said. The program was temporarily suspended.
When the school closure was extended until the remainder of the school year, the free food program was extended as well. After taking a few weeks off to reorganize, they came back with a more sustainable plan, partnering with local churches who volunteered to help pack the meals each Monday, then help wit
h distribution on Wednesdays.
Under the new program, food distribution is limited to Oxford students eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch (about 1,200 students). Parents may only pick-up food for their own children and are required to verify the building student attends, student’s full name and ID number.
Originally slated to end on June 3, the program will continue for the rest of the summer. On June 10, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, extended a waiver allowing local partners to continue serving free meals to all children – regardless of where they live – for the remainder of the summer. Typically, USDA funded summer meals sites are limited to low income areas.
Recently, they added boxes of fresh produce, dairy and poultry from the USDA’s Farmers to Families program, to supplement the students’ meals for their families. This program has provided a network of more than 1,000 growers across the U.S. to help keep the food supply chain intact and prevent fresh, perishable food from going to waste.
After 15 years with Oxford Community Schools, Bissett is retiring on June 30. Kitchen Manager Patty Silorey will take over as the new Nutrition Services Director.
“It was one of the best decisions I ever made, was to come to Oxford,” Bissett reflected.
When she first came to Oxford, everyone said Oxford was still a small town. She didn’t think so, since she came from a much small town. But, over the years, “Oxford has proven it really is a small town. The community is so supportive.”
Bissett is thankful for the opportunity to work for Oxford Schools, where they always put kids first.
In her retirement, Bissett plans to travel, possibly consult for other school district food services and volunteer for hospice.