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Nutrition Services Team Continues Innovating to Support Community During Pandemic
Posted 1/15/21

OCEANSIDE – “When Time Magazine came out featuring cafeteria workers on the cover, that was a really moving picture. Being recognized as an essential worker on the front lines validated our hard work and contribution to the community,” Oceanside Unified School District Nutrition Services Director Catherine Slomka said. 

Slomka and her team have had to innovate since the start of the pandemic, from handing out curbside meals in hot summer heat to finding ways to feed students outside of a cafeteria. Gold Star Foods, a distributor to OUSD, recently honored the department a “Goldstar Award” for their tremendous participation in the USDA Farm to Families Program. This is just one example of how they have always gone the extra mile to feed the Oceanside community. When Farm to Families launched to transfer surplus food boxes to communities during the pandemic, OUSD was one of few districts to take on the task, and served 150,700 extra pounds of food in just a month.

“I am most proud of the unity and the resilience that I’ve seen. Our staff have been willing to come to work when the stakes are really high, and despite the stress and anxiety, they’ve been there for the community,” Slomka said. “We have been a staple for the community since day one of the pandemic. The kids know that they can come to school and get something to eat.” 

Despite all the challenges, Slomka said recent record participation in school meals has shown staff the value of their work. Over summer, staff served an average 15,000 meals per day, compared to 3,000 during a normal summer. They also had record success serving holiday meal packages for Thanksgiving and winter breaks. On Nov. 24, within 90 minutes at nine schools, they handed out more than 75,000 meals and snacks to the community, followed by 190,000 meals and snacks served on Dec. 18. 

Nutrition Services would not be able to serve all these meals without the support of the OUSD Transportation Department, who may not be driving students to school, but have been deployed throughout Oceanside with meals. In addition to their food trucks, buses and other efforts helping provide meal access, transportation staff have even been distributing meals direct to the homes of 60 families in need of this support. The most recent addition of serving at bus stops has already proved to be a huge success. Cindy Leftwick, a bus driver who has been in the district for more than 28 years, delivers to 10 households in the North Terrace area on Tuesdays. 

“Occasionally I’ll see a parent or a family member, and they’re always appreciative of the food that we leave them. That makes me feel happy, that we’re doing a good job,” Leftwich said. “We miss our kids, we wish we were driving them, but we aren’t right now, so at least this is another way that we can help the families. It’s tough times right now.”

Nutrition Services’ food reach has also gone beyond families in the district through collaboration with the Oceanside Kitchen Collaborative, who recover unused food or items close to expiration and create meals to serve those in need. 

For more information about OUSD meal service and to fill out a free meal application, which gives eligible families access to a variety of services and discounts, visit the Nutrition Services website. To view other local food providers such as the North County Food Bank, visit the City of Oceanside COVID-19 resources page.