South Orangetown Central School District

South Orangetown Central School District Board of Education member Christine Lee presented Food Service Directors Mary Mills and Heidi Bishop with plaques expressing appreciation on behalf of the Rockland County School Boards Association last week. The county-wide body, composed of Board delegates from each of the eight public school districts and Rockland BOCES, recognized the contributions food service workers have made to feed students throughout the COVID-19 pandemic during a virtual June 2 event.

Following the COVID-19 school closure last March, the Whitsons food service team worked closely with District administrators and school custodians to develop a fully remote program. “To avoid as much food waste as possible, we moved food from all of our school cafeterias to the middle school and developed a menu based on what we had. Perishables went first. We had funds that had to be spent, so we sent home boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables along with the boxed meals,” Mills recalled. “Then, we had to find people who were willing to come in to assemble and distribute grab-and-go meals. Anna Spano and Christina McGrath stepped up to help. We started out with 80 families, but it quickly grew to 150 families a week. Families were grateful for the help; a few people even dropped off sanitizer and disinfectant for our workers to express their gratitude.”

Mills credits District administrators and key central office staff–specifically, Karen Tesik, Joseph Lloyd, Kleo Girandola, Jack Rallo, John Gulino, AJ Walker, Danielle Durso and the late Paul Guglielmo–with coordinating and personally making home deliveries to families who lacked transportation to pick up meals from the South Orangetown Middle School distribution hub.

Food service transitioned again with the launch of an online ordering system to manage meal service for hybrid, fully-remote and fully in-person students across all four schools last fall–with the added challenge of unanticipated COVID-related closures which impacted distribution schedules. As the school year progressed, the team was responsive to changing conditions and made improvements to simplify and streamline meal service ordering for students and families.

“Our food service team really helped to innovate as our District worked to meet a myriad of critical needs at the outset of this pandemic,” said Lee. “Their efforts helped to address our community’s food insecurity and are greatly appreciated.”

“This recognition is really a tribute to this community,” Mills noted. “Almost all of our food service workers live and work here and we take great pride in what we do.”

Food Service Director Mary Mills, Heidi Bishop and BOE member Christine Lee