OUSD Leading the Way with Food Distribution

Hello Oakland Unified Community,In times of tremendous challenge, a full service community school district is a hub of opportunity for our community. Our food distribution program is an example of our district’s mission in action. These food distribution sites have quickly become critical community resources.As the Chief Systems and Services Officer, I have been honored to play a role in coordinating this effort with a team of amazing leaders in OUSD and our community.
As of Thursday:We have provided 795,815 meals for Oakland families.We have distributed 16,955 food bags from the Alameda County Community Food Bank, plus 25 tons of fresh produce.We have worked with other partners to help provide adult meals, diapers, feminine products, dental kits, pet food, and children’s books and art supplies. 
We have much to be pround of, but numbers alone do not tell the real story.Our community members are facing daunting challenges. We have seen massive waves of newly unemployed community members. Families are having a difficult time getting what they need, including quality food. Last week, I talked to a woman who is raising six grandchildren, all of whom attend Oakland schools. With her grandson beside her, she rolled up on her mobility scooter with a shopping cart. The grocery stores were too far and the shelves of the essential food that they could afford were bare. Her OUSD food distribution site is a lifeline that her family needs on Mondays and Thursdays, and she shared her gratitude for all the support. (See the survey below to share any stories or feedback.)
My selfie with the amazing team at Elmhurst United
The Safety of our Staff and Community is Our Top Priority.Based on the community’s early actions, we are seeing evidence that we are flattening the curve in Alameda County. However, the coronavirus continues to spread in our community. 

Many of you may have read that we had a food distribution volunteer test positive. They did not have symptoms at the school site. After developing symptoms, they self-isolated, reported the situation to their supervisor, and tested as positive a couple of days later. (Click here for the press release). Fortunately, since we started this work, all of our distribution events have had extensive health and safety protocols in place such as using gloves, masks, social distancing practices, and disinfectants. Our team specifically designed the distribution dates with at least two days in between each meal service so that we can systematically clean after each event.

Additionally, in accordance with the latest guidance from the CDC, if an employee/volunteer tests positive, we will  notify other employees as appropriate; we deep clean the facility (using the CDC recommended practices); and we will ensure that any employee or volunteer displaying symptoms stays home and away from work.  

We are thankful for the support from the city of Oakland, which allows our essential workers and volunteers who have been at the sites to have prioritized access to COVID-19 testing in the case of a potential exposure. 

OUSD cannot identify the individual because of privacy laws, nor is the District publicly releasing the names of the site(s) where they worked, as that information could lead others to know his/her identity.

This has happened in other school districts and in grocery stores locally and across the country. The reality we have to face is that we have to behave as though coronavirus is everywhere in Oakland. Our safety practices are designed and implemented to ensure the greatest care for our employees, volunteers, and families at all times. That is why our staff wear gloves and masks or other face coverings, and practice physical distancing. Every 30 minutes, we change protective gear and disinfect surfaces. Employees who have chosen to work at these sites have been informed that they are not required to come to work (though they would still be paid) – whether for health reasons, family situations, or emotional wellness. 

We have been relentless about getting better each day as we know the community is depending on us. After each day of food service, all of the site leaders discuss what worked well and what could be improved. We stay up-to-date with the constantly evolving guidelines from the CDC and work with partner organizations like Lunch Assist and other school districts to identify best practices.

Modeled after a Public Health Department strategy, OUSD created an internal Health and Safety Team which visits all sites to observe practices and provide feedback for improvement. Each day, the team  makes recommendations for improving safety practices (e.g., physical distancing, effective use of masks) and ensuring staff members feel appreciated and cared for. County Health Department food inspectors have inspected and inspectors  were impressed with our procedures. 

If you have any suggestions for increasing safety please see the survey below.

OUSD Employees are Heroes Among Us.I have worked at or visited every one of OUSD’s food service sites and am humbled by the hard work, dedication, and ingenuity of our staff. In the early days of this pandemic, there was no blueprint for transitioning our traditional nutrition services model into critical community support with food distribution hubs capable of feeding our students who are now out of school. 

Our staff are pioneers in this area, and they continue to go above and beyond to support our families. Our Nutrition Services Executive Director, Irene Reynolds, and her leadership team, were resolved to open for service on the first day that schools were closed. They rolled up their sleeves and created a plan that addresses changing “guidance,” regulation, and demand. Our team was creative and quick because our community needed them to be. We opened twelve sites all on the same day — the first day that our campuses were closed to staff and students.  We served 4,211 students on that first day and that has expanded to over 14,000 students each day of service.All 12 of our cafeteria site managers are demonstrating exceptional leadership in tremendously difficult times. I want to lift up two of our managers who are doing amazing work at their site.Peggy Gruendl who is the Nutrition Services Manager at Sankofa, realized that there was rain in the forecast on a recent Monday, she personally went out to purchase canopies to make sure that families and staff were protected from the elements. It is the small things that make a difference when you are managing in a crisis. Each morning as we prepare to distribute meals, Olga Ruiz-Robles, the Nutrition Services Manager at Elmhurst United, makes breakfast and coffee for the team.
More AppreciationsI feel honored to be a part of an amazing team of dedicated staff who bring joy and purpose to the work — Brenda Jemison, Shayla Tyler (Happy Birthday), Donald Irby, Kevin Bailey, Olga Velasquez, Carol Kalimoku, Cecilia Franco, Trevlyn Crenshaw, Ariel Benavides, Chris Woodruff, Jabari Scott, and Rene Essex. We are lucky to have you serving our students each day.AFSCME is a key labor partner and we thank them for their partnership in helping serve our families. We will continue to work with AFSCME collaboratively on any future adjustments to the program.If our school site staff and volunteers are the heart of our food distribution system, our truck drivers are the circulatory system. Each day, they distribute thousands of meals across the city to get ready for the Monday and Thursday distributions. Carlos Altamirano-Miramontes, Dennis Ochoa, Gregory Brumfield, Randy Spencer and William Taylor, Jr. have been going above and beyond during this time.We also deeply appreciate all the custodians, school security officers, community school managers, after school staff, teachers and clerical staff that are supporting this community effort. 
We have amazing partnerships and collective impactPartnerships are the cornerstone of a full service community school district. Together, as a community, we are doing the important work of feeding and nourishing our city during this difficult time. And we will continue to do so thanks to the dedication, passion, and commitment of our nutrition services team and strong local partnerships!We are now on course to continue serving about 200,000 student meals and 24,000 adults meals each week, plus about 3,000 bags of groceries for families in partnership with the Alameda County Community Food Bank.Our partnership with World Central Kitchen and Revolution Foods allowed us to provide the 20,000 dinners this past week for the parents and families of our students and are supporting local restaurants to feed our essential workers on the front lines.We are partnering with Stephen and Ayesha Curry’s Eat. Learn. Play. FoundationNo Kid HungryWalter and Elise Haas FundThompson Family FoundationNumi Foundation, and many other funders and donors for ongoing support of the food program.Today begins our distribution of diapers at the 12 locations based on a new partnership with Help a Mother Out.SupplyBank.org continues to help us to provide other basic need items including bags for the “Grab and Go” meal packs, feminine hygiene products and other basic need items.Thanks to Delta Dental, we also distributed about 5,000 dental hygiene kits.
There are even more students who need our support.We need your help getting the word out.Every day, about 13,000 of Oakland’s students and their families show up to get food, but 25,023 Oakland students qualify for free and reduced lunches even during better times. I know families are hurting and many are relying on the support we are providing. Each week, the numbers continue to grow.  We have always known the importance of school food for our district community. That is why we have invested so much in a new central kitchen that we are excited to launch next school year.Our school meals are important when school is in session under normal circumstances. Now, during these uncertain times when the need in our community has grown exponentially, they have an even more critical role in the health and well-being of thousands of our students. I thank everyone who is supporting this effort. We couldn’t serve our families without you.
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Preston Thomas
Chief Systems and Services Officer
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