You can’t say Sarasota County Schools without saying Sara Dan’s name—her career in school nutrition began there in 1996, serving as a Nutrition Educator, Training Supervisor and Area Supervisor. And in 2019, she took the reigns as Director of Food Nutrition Services at the 52-school district in southwest Florida.
While on spring break in 2020, COVID-19 closed the district for 48 days. Suddenly, Sara and her team were tasked with feeding nearly 1000 kids who relied on school meals, all while not being able to utilize 60% of staff who were over 65 and couldn’t work due to heightened virus risk.
Luckily, the Sarasota County staff know how to band together—Sara and Co. have worked during hurricanes, after all. Their pandemic response included executing remote feeding sites, meal distributions and snack/supper programs that kept students fed and staff safe. “People had to be ready to wear any hat they had to,” said Sara.
“We had staff talk about their fears and asked questions. We made sure to be careful and show our appreciation.”
“We knew we didn't have the manpower for every feeding site, so we placed sites strategically and we let families know how to access resources.”
“To keep participation high, we've used social media and PR. Sometimes it wasn't just the kids we fed; it was also the parents. Everyone banded together to combine their resources throughout the community.”
“Some workers took a break and took off this summer. We understand breaks are needed so that they are ready in the fall.”
What Does the Future Look Like?
“We are going to have seamless meals where kids eat for free, and we will continue to keep our team safe by reinforcing safety precautions.”
“Something I'm very proud of is how we've always had a commitment to fresh produce. We really tried to focus on getting as fresh as possible and we are super proud of these efforts. The products are from local farms.”
Keep up with Sara Dan and the entire Sarasota County Schools nutrition team on social media!
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