By, Kristi Conti, RDN, LDN
Nutrition Specialist and Project Manager
“It’s all about the kids.” This has always been a common phrase used by the Food and Nutrition staff in Caroline County. However, these past few years, it really became their mantra. Supervisor of Food Services, Beth Brewster, spends much of her life drumming up new ways and refining current operations to make sure the children of Caroline County are always provided with nutritious food. Although the COVID-19 pandemic attempted to dampen these efforts, we remained undaunted. During this time, we served 2,000 children daily. Each meal pack contained a breakfast, lunch, and supper, equating to 6,000 meals each day. Not only did we continue this service throughout the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year, we also served these kids into the summer and during holidays when access to food regularly becomes scarce for many.
As many other school Food Service operations know, efficiency is key to successfully feeding a community of this size. That is why we were so excited to learn that the Maryland Department of Transportation agreed to donate a transit bus to be retrofitted and repurposed as a Mobile Pantry for us! This new mobile unit has allowed us to distribute food efficiently to the higher poverty, food desert areas within the county. Caroline County Public Schools has a 58% Free and Reduced Rate for school meals, with one in four children currently being food insecure. This new Mobile Pantry food distribution unit is needed now more than ever!
We completed the retrofitting process last year, with our Mobile Pantry now containing refrigerated modules for holding meals at appropriate temperatures to ensure food safety. The bus is also wrapped with colorful vinyl and logos of our partner agencies. Our mission is to feed the children of Caroline County, while also partnering with these local agencies to offer enrichment programs and other services, such as health screenings.
We have begun to also function similar to an ice cream truck, dropping meals at different locations and residencies as needed. Children receive cold meals that are ready to eat, as well as frozen lunches and suppers that can be reheated in a microwave or oven. Once congregate meals are safe to resume, children will also be able to sit outside under the bus awnings and enjoy their meals with others.
This Mobile Pantry has been in the works for some time, but the recent pandemic illuminated the urgency of so many individuals struggling to access affordable, quality food within our county. Knowing that we now have another way to bring balanced, nutritious meals to children in Caroline County made the wait well worth it!
A bus schedule detailing dates, times and locations can be found at shogomobile.com.