Sioux Center school sack lunches in July

Kinsey Elementary School librarian Alison Brantsen and Sioux Center School District bus driver Klaas Van Beek get ready to hand out meals outside of Christ the King Catholic Church in Sioux Center on Monday. They say that turn out has varied in the summer months.

SIOUX CENTER—When the schools closed their doors to students March 13 due to the coronavirus, lunches continued to be prepared for students and brought to three spots in Sioux Center.

The school year is over, but Sioux Center School District staff still man their posts 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, ready to hand off sack lunches to vehicles that pull up at Christ the King Catholic Church, Central Reformed Church and Westbrook Village.

And lunches will continue to be provided until Friday, July 31, according to Sioux Center food director Jenna Brunns.

With how well things have gone for the program so far this year, Brunns expects to see it return next summer as well. There had been talks of starting a summer lunch program before.

“It was my goal to get this going this summer,” Brunns said. “I had been working with my state consultant when all of a sudden COVID happened and we had to start doing things this way anyway. Flowing into the summer food program was very easy based on what we were doing for our COVID meals.”

Four thousand lunches were served in March, and 9,000 were served in April. About 6,000 lunches were served in May, and numbers have declined slightly in June, down to fewer than 6,000. A team of about 12 volunteers continue to make the meals.

There are different government standards for the summer lunch program as part of the Summer Food Service Program compared to meals from the school year as part of the National School Lunch Program, Brunns said.

“The difference between the two is essentially that we don’t have to count calories, sodium, saturated fats for the summer meals,” Brunns said. “That’s probably the most significant change between the two.”

Summer lunches must have a grain, a meat or meat alternative, a combination of fruit and vegetable that equals ¾ of a cup and milk.

NSLP lunches have further requirements for their vegetables, providing different vegetable subgroups to better round out diets.

“This has allowed for a lot more flexibility,” Brunns said. “We don’t feel such strict standards as you would for the NSLP. But most importantly, this makes sure the kids in our community have a meal. There’s definitely a need for it, and this makes sure that nobody goes without food during COVID-19.”

She has been thankful for staff and volunteers who have had a hand in this, saying they’ve stepped up to the task.

Doing all this has strained the food budget, but food service has made due with its allotted budget.

“The first month or two, it was pretty tough because our employees were still getting paid and we didn’t have much revenue coming in. Yes, we were getting reimbursed for our meals, but it wasn’t the same amount we’d generate,” Brunns said. “Now that summer meals have kicked in, we’re trying to utilize more of our in-house inventory, which keeps our food budget down.”