By: Shannan Young, RDN, SNS
Child nutrition programs provide critical access to healthy meals for school aged children. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact industries and families, schools are innovating how they provide meals to students while families shelter in place in spite of drops in school meal participation. According to a recent School Nutrition Association survey, meal participation has decreased by over 50% despite the drive-thru and walk up meal services provided to families to make pick-ups safe and convenient. Meanwhile, operating costs have increased for school foodservice professionals who are required to purchase personal protective equipment and extra food packaging. At least two-thirds of school districts in California are predicting school meal program deficits in the upcoming year.
For the school foodservice industry, the Farmers to Families Food Box Program offers a new opportunity to bring a much needed revenue source to support school food service operations that qualify for the program. School Nutrition programs can use the Farmers to Families Food Box funding to pay for food costs, staff and distribution expenses while providing healthy food and food security for children and families in their community.
What is the Farmers to Families Food Box Program?
The USDA Farm to Families Food Box Program supports farmers, families and school nutrition programs by delivering farm fresh food directly to families in need. Filled with 30 pounds of nutritious foods from a variety of food groups including fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and meat, these boxes help support healthy eating patterns. To date, distributors throughout the United States have delivered over 50 million food boxes from farmers to families, using a total of $3 billion that has been allocated to this program.
Why are school food service programs uniquely qualified?
School food service programs have the commitment, expertise, resources and relationships to be distributors for the Farm to Families Food Box program.
How can schools participate?
Riverside Unified School District, operates as a Food Box distributor, and Scott Berndt, Food Hub Coordinator for the district, was featured on a recent Dairy Council of California Town Hall webinar.
Scott shared the application process, benefits and challenges of the program for food service directors. To date, he has distributed about 17, 000 boxes to families and could have delivered up to 40,000 as the need has been so great. One of the benefits to school food service, according to Scott is that, “The program allowed us to provide income during the summer for food service staff not currently on contract.”
How do schools apply?
Schools and dairy processors can be distributors in the Farmers to Families Food Box program. Form a local collaborative and submit your application right away.
The Farmers to Families has a rolling application period, but once the funds run out, USDA will stop accepting applications. For application information, visit USDA Farmers to Families Food Box.
Teaching nutrition education remains important during this time. Dairy Council of California Nutrition Builders are available for school nutrition services programs to order and distribute as an education component with their food boxes or with grab and go meals. Nutrition Builders are short, interactive one-page activities designed to build nutrition knowledge and reinforce healthy eating patterns.
Thank You to All Food System Workers
Our food system works because of the hard work of individuals. This includes farmers, ranchers, farm workers, truck drivers, restaurants cooks and servers, school food service directors, cafeteria managers, and cafeteria workers. Thank you to those who play a role in providing nutritious food to children and families.
To access more resources about the Farmers to Families Food Box Program, please visit the USDA’s information page.
To access a brochure, please visit the California Food Banks website: http://cafoodbanks.org/sites/default/files/CAFB-Brochure-Web.pdf
Shannan Young, RDN, SNS
Shannan Young, RDN, SNS
Shannan is the Program Director of Food Systems and Access. With over 20 years of experience as a registered dietitian nutritionist.
Dairy Council of California offers a wide variety of online resources that easily embed into online learning platforms.
School foodservice professionals are honored for their commitment to ensuring children are nourished, even during unprecedented times.