• 70°

Transportation department expands role to meet nutritional needs

RESERVE — Thousands of meals have been distributed this school year in a very different way, going out on St. John the Baptist Parish Public School District buses to homes throughout the parish.

On the final day of National Nutrition Month, members of the school district’s Cabinet – made up of department heads and others who advise the superintendent – hopped on those buses to get a first- hand look at how the district’s Transportation Department has met the challenge of not only addressing the transportation needs of students but their nutritional needs as well.

“Our normal operating parameters are to deliver kids to and from school and school-related activities,” Supervisor of Transportation Steve Vales said. “This year, we were put in a situation of supporting Green and Gold hybrid students when they were coming to school two days a week and, now that we are on a four-day-a-week schedule, leaves us in a position as a district of supporting the nutrition of virtual students who don’t come to school at all.”

The St. John the Baptist Parish Public School District began offering home delivery of meals to virtual students in December. Once parents register at www.stjohn.k12.la.us, scholars receive meals containing five breakfasts and five lunches delivered to their front door by a bus driver once a week.

Drivers knock or ring the doorbell and set the meals on the doorstep so that they do not come into contact with families. Meal boxes contain items such as fresh bread products, cereal, frozen entrees, frozen juice, pre-portioned fruit and vegetables, and shelf-stable milk or fresh milk.

“Our bus drivers have risen to the challenge, overcome logistical hurdles and stepped up to meet the needs of the community,” Vales said.

Beyond delivering meals, the transportation and child nutrition departments have tried to accommodate the nutritional needs of scholars as their schedules change or when meals may need to be delivered to an alternate location.

“The goal of the district was to provide maximum flexibility to families as they adjusted to the

circumstances presented by COVID, which is different for every household,” he said.

The ride-along was part of an effort to allow leaders from different departments the opportunity to familiarize themselves with operations across the district so they can be better informed as they offer support and new ideas.

“I truly enjoyed going out and seeing how our bus drivers are helping our scholars by providing meals. The cafeteria at Lake Pontchartrain Elementary was efficient and had the lunches ready to go when bus No. 45 arrived. It only took a few minutes to load the boxes and we were off,” said Elizabeth Thompson, Title III coordinator in the Federal and State Programs Department. “Tenisha and Deena have their routine down solid. My first take-away is that our parish is doing an incredible job making sure our scholars have the nutrition they need while learning from home. The second is that we cannot please everyone, but that it is not stopping our bus drivers from smiling and continuing to deliver meals.”