Feeding Our Families

NCCS Food Service Department serves thousands of meals during pandemic

Bella Coneglio, Copy Editor

Among the spiraling surge of COVID-19, our town, along with the rest of the world, has managed to adapt to a new everyday normal. While challenging for all businesses and the economy itself, families within the community have been struck with financial setbacks and the rapid placement of online learning.

However, while the school buildings shut down, the school district’s cafeterias did not.

“When the schools went into remote learning in March, the students were no longer in the schools which meant that they didn’t have access to the cafeteria and meals,” said Mrs. Jill Lauter, Director of North Canton City Schools Food Services. “We have a pretty significant number of children that are on the free and reduced meal program and rely heavily on us to provide breakfast and lunch during the week.”

The NCCS food service staff moved quickly.

“We learned on March 13 that we would begin feeding the community on March 16th. We did — and we haven’t stopped since,” Lauter said. 

Fortunately, a meal plan was in the works months earlier.

“We had already had all the wheels turning to have a Summer Meal Program in place to start on June 1 at the middle school,” Lauter said. “We were gearing up to feed the Y Camp for the summer months.” 

After research and time management, the concept of a daily summer food drive was brought to the administration.

“I took this idea to our superintendent, business manager, and treasurer to see what they thought about providing this program to our community and they were all very excited to be able to do this,” Lauter said. “At the time, it was mid-January.”

As the process moved along, preparation began and the word quickly spread through families all around the community. The food service staff arrives and starts prep at 5:45 a.m., providing bagged meals until 1 p.m., eventually closing up the kitchen around 1:15 p.m.

“‘Team Cafe,’ which I refer to as our food service staff, have been nothing but superheroes,” Lauter said. “So much has changed in the past nine weeks. Parents and children are so appreciative of the meals and interaction with our staff.” 

It is no secret NCCS’ entire staff has gone the extra mile to provide for the community. Yet, while each student is given a to-go meal, they are also granted with much more. It is not only a quick social outing or lunch pick-up, but also a memorable experience, a chance for students and teachers to briefly catch up. Some NCCS teachers even dress up in school colors and hold cheerful signs with messages like “We Miss You!” It isn’t hard to see how much the North Canton City Schools staff prioritizes the students and families every day; it is a chance to come together as a school, and a daily reunion for all families and staff members.

“I would like to thank them for standing out there every day for hours with a big smile on their faces and providing meals to the many families in need,” Hoover sophomore Grace Lightner said. “I think it’s awesome. They have been such a huge help to our community during this time, and it is very comforting to see how much they care and want to help and support us during these uncertain times.” 

Not only has this daily food drive been a joyous experience for the students, but it has also been helpful for overwhelmed parents.

“As a mother of four children, it’s been extremely helpful to have this service available,” NCCS parent Mrs. Lurae Lightner said. “It takes the pressure off mealtime and covers two meals a day. The kids enjoy the packed meals as well.”

For most families during this time, financial changes remain a daily struggle, as it is such a large adjustment for everyone.

“From a financial side, it has helped us tremendously, offloading the costs of groceries and bridging the gap from reduced household income,” Mrs. Lightner said.

Even students remain appreciative, understanding the financial and circumstantial pressures during this time.

“It has been really helpful to our family to be able to have two meals provided for us five days a week; it has saved us a lot of money on food and helped us so much financially,” Grace Lightner said.

The NCCS food service program has been exceptionally helpful for families during stay-at-home and shelter-in-place adjustments. The staff, being nothing short of saints, have especially impacted each participating Hoover family.

“I can’t tell you the number of families that we’re helping, but I can tell that we are feeding approximately 900 children breakfast and lunch every day, Monday through Friday, which equates to about 9,000 meals per week,” Lauter said.

As the school year comes to a close, the NCCS staff is determined to continue to do their utmost.

“We’re not sure what to expect after May 29, but we are ready for almost anything. We have become masters of change. As the regulations have changed for meal patterns and allowances, we have been able to keep up with all of the changes,” Lauter said. “We plan to continue to do whatever we can to keep on feeding the kids!” 

Impacting the community daily, families are beyond grateful for this experience.

“A sincere thank you and heartfelt gratitude for the service they’re providing. It has been such a blessing in so many ways,” Mrs. Lightner said. “They have taken the task and added much more, making it meaningful and personal.” ♦