COVID-19 has brought many uncertainties to the community, but students and their families know they can always depend on Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools for a meal.
The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) provides nutritious meals at no cost to help children in low-income areas get the nutrition they need to learn, play and grow throughout the summer months when they are out of school. This year, 52 sites are open to serve students.
Jennifer Maskulyak is a cafeteria manager. This summer, her team moved from Oakdale Elementary to Governors' Village STEM Academy. The larger cafeteria gives staff a chance to practice social distancing. Her team of 37 prepares and delivers hundreds of breakfasts and lunches daily. "It is what I call organized chaos," said Maskulyak. "And I love it."
Maskulyak's team hands out meals to students who arrive for meal pickup, and the team also has five routes for delivering meals to church groups, YMCAs, daycares and other CMS schools that don't have open kitchens. Anyone can get a meal. "If someone pulls up and tells us they need five meals for their kids, we give it to them," she said. "We want to make sure everyone has enough to eat."
Since the pandemic began, School Nutrition Services employees have been taking special precautions to stay safe. They wear personal protective equipment, take special sanitizing precautions and practice social distancing. "When we first started our meal program in March, employees that came to work did not know that we would be getting hazard pay," said Maskulyak. "They didn't do it for the pay. They came in because they know that we are sometimes our students' only source of a reliable meal. And we care about them."
Maskulyak, who has been with the district for 18 years, said she is healthy and knew she had to go help distribute food. "It was my responsibility to bite the bullet, go in and help our kids," she said.
With many students facing food insecurity, community partners have stepped in to help. The district recently received a donation from Palmolive and Colgate. Gift bags that include toothpaste, body wash, toothbrushes and other personal care items will soon be distributed with meals. "It is so fun to see the kids get excited to find out what's inside the bag," said Maskulyak.
Families are very thankful for the services provided by School Nutrition Services. "Our families are so appreciative," said Maskulyak. "It just gives us more fuel to keep doing what we are doing. What we are doing is more important now than ever because so many families are struggling."
After working a full day, Maskulyak went into a store with her SFSP shirt on. A cashier asked her about how the program works and if she enjoyed her job. "I love my job," she told them. "I really do. I am not going to get rich doing this job, but I enjoy what I do. That's why I stay and always have a happy face."