The Leander Independent School District (ISD) is located in a suburb community outside of the Austin, TX metropolitan area. The district has a relatively low free- and reduced-qualified student population of just 18%, so it did not anticipate large demand for its recent emergency feeding program in the wake of COVID-19 school closures. The district’s Child Nutrition Administrative team had, for years, offered a Summer Feeding Supplemental Program, providing free meals to anyone ages 1-18 in the community, regardless of their status as a student in the district or income eligibility. Typically, just 100-150 meals per day were served within this summer program.
With this in mind, the district team was shocked when it was met with the 4,000 meals-per-day demand during the weeks following Leander ISD school closures. Close teamwork with its contracted foodservice partner, Southwest Foodservice Excellence (SFE), together with advanced meal-ordering technology, service adaptability, and a desire to care for a community in crisis, has helped Leander ISD effectively feed students and families in need.
Scaling Up to Meet Demand
As with most school districts across the country, Leander ISD had to quickly come up with a plan to provide healthy meals to students during the COVID-19 closures. Not sure what type of interest to expect from community families, the district worked with its foodservice provider, Southwest Foodservice Excellence (SFE) to give families a chance to order meals through the district’s Nutrislice Online Ordering function. After receiving 350 orders for the first day, alone, the team knew it was in for higher demand than first expected.
“We assumed the need for meals would be in line with our Summer program, perhaps with a little additional demand. We were planning to hand out about 200 meals per site initially,” said Kristin Andrews, SFE registered dietitian at Leander ISD. “By using the Nutrislice pre-ordering function, we received an advanced understanding of what the community would need, allowing us to sufficiently scale the program.”
Many factors may have contributed to the heightened demand, including sudden financial insecurity for families, fear of going into grocery stores and the anticipation of future food shortages. Families may also have appreciated the opportunity to take stir-crazy children on a safe, daily outing—to break up the monotony of quarantine. Regardless of what may have driven the significant community response, Leander ISD has been able to provide delicious and nutritious meals Monday through Friday ever since the announcement of COVID-19 school closures.
Breakfast and lunch are handed out at four locations across the district. Students can pre-order or just show up to collect their meals, and all meals are safely delivered to the car with adherence to recommended social distancing protocol.
Leander ISD previously relied on its Nutrislice Online Ordering solution to drive student participation during its regular foodservice program, offering students the option of reduced wait- times in lines, as well as increased meal customization. Today, however, the same technology is being used to coordinate the pick-up of nearly 4,000 emergency meals a day for the entire student community, as well as to improve foodservice efficiencies and planning.
“The flexibility and ease-of-use of SFE’s Nutrislice product is something we’ve really come to appreciate,” added Andrews. “Within 20 minutes of activating it, we were up and running. Had that not been the case, we may have struggled much more with providing enough meals to meet the high wave of demand in our community.”
Leander ISD will be providing meals to every child in the district under 18 for as long as the school closures last—and even into the summer, as needed. The district’s nutrition program will continue to use Nutrislice for pre-ordering, helping the team to effectively gauge ongoing meal demand.