FRANKLIN — School looks much different in this global pandemic for most Hoosier students. One area where you can visibly see the changes are inside school cafeterias.
The spaces are normally reserved for catching up with friends, eating lunches, going through lines and socialization. Now many school districts are having to get creative to get kids fed while maintaining social distancing required to slow the spread of the virus.
With Indiana Grown, WRTV traveled down to Johnson County and met with Jill Overton.
She is the Food Services Director for Franklin Community Schools which means she oversees all aspects of meal planning, nutrition, staffing, hiring, training, and communication with the Department of Education.
According to Indiana Grown's Heather Tallman, Overton goes above and beyond each school year to connect with local farmers and artisans to be able to provide fresh, locally-sourced goods for student breakfasts and lunches.
"The last three school years we pretty much exclusively purchased apples locally from the Apple Works," Overton said. "Salad bars were huge in our eight schools. We did purchase locally from a farm in Morgantown. We had some artisan lettuces that we added in."
However, in the time of COVID-19, salad bars had to go and Overton had to get creative to still offer fresh goods but also in a pre-packaged and on-the-go way.
"Still trying to keep things as normal as we can, because there's so much that is not normal," Overton says, who tries to find fun things to add in when she can like smiley face cookies for young kids. "Just to kind of throw some things out there occasionally to make it fun."
She says the sanitation practices are nothing new to her department, but they are working more on handling the food less and pre-packaging everything they can ahead of time. Kids will grab their meal and often go eat in the gym bleachers to be more socially distant.
"Pretty much anything we can is pre-packaged, to keep it safe," Overton said. "We want parents to know that we are doing everything we can to keep the kids safe as well."
With hybrid schedules and the unknown as to if and when schools could close due to the virus, Overton wants families in her district to know that even if a child is virtual learning they can still order a meal from the school for breakfast and lunch.
She also wants parents to know the US Department of Agriculture extended the free summer meals program due to COVID-19 through the end of the year, so families that are struggling can continue to get help feeding their students.
"I think it's a great opportunity for those who might've still been struggling a little bit to have a little breathing space," Overton said.
She says she hopes to work more with the school's agriculture teacher on growing food in the greenhouse for their menu. She also says she plans to look for more ways to work with local growers.
If you want to learn more about the USDA free summer meal program, click here.
If you want to learn more about the food grown right here in Indiana visit IndianaGrown.org.