CYPRESS — In continuing its free service to the CFISD community, the nutrition services department launched Curbside CONNECT on Sept. 8, which provides breakfast and lunch at no cost to all children 18 and younger through Dec. 31. The department has provided curbside meals since March 16 during the COVID-19 pandemic and celebrated its millionth meal served in June.
Curbside CONNECT grab-and-go meals are available to children not engaging in traditional face-to-face learning. For those utilizing on-campus learning, breakfast and lunch meals are also offered at no cost through Dec. 31.
Meals through Curbside CONNECT are available from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday offered at 33 campuses across CFISD to provide greater coverage of the entire district population. On Tuesday, each child is provided meals for the following Wednesday and Thursday, while three breakfasts and three lunches are distributed every Thursday for the following three school days.
On the first day of operation, Curbside CONNECT served approximately 28,000 meals. The program served roughly 74,000 in the first week.
“The main reason we’re continuing the program is there is a need,” said Darin Crawford, director of nutrition services. “When the district surveyed parents to find out who would be coming back to school for face-to-face instruction and who would be learning virtually, there was a piece of the survey about the need for meals. We had a significant amount of people who indicated a need, so we made the decision that we were going to do it.”
CFISD is able to serve meals at no cost through waivers provided by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Seamless Summer Option (SSO) helps districts offer breakfast and lunch in the summer or during extended school closures. However, the USDA granted a nationwide waiver allowing the program’s operation through Dec. 31 or until funding is no longer available.
In addition, the USDA established a waiver to allow all states to waive area eligibility requirements during this time. SSO meals are at no cost in areas where students are at least 50 percent economically disadvantaged. A waiver from the Texas Department of Agriculture allows CFISD to extend area eligibility to the entire district.
Curbside CONNECT is also more expansive from meal services in the spring and summer. Meal distribution covers the entire district footprint, including 16 middle schools and all but two high schools.
“We have needs all over the district,” Crawford said. “We wanted to expand the access and have as many places as we can open and available. We wanted places in every area of the district.”
Safety is also addressed as Curbside CONNECT minimizes contact between staff and families at campuses. Families remain in their vehicles while verifying the amount of meals with staff, who then place meals on a cart or in the rear of the vehicles for contactless distribution.
Multiple-day distribution was also established to help limit trips to the schools. During the spring and summer, breakfasts and lunches were provided Monday through Friday, but meals were distributed on a single-day basis.
Now, students can get five days’ worth of meals (five breakfasts and five lunches) they would normally receive at school in just two trips to Curbside CONNECT instead of five.
On Sept. 24, Curbside CONNECT closed out its third week by serving nearly 50,000 meals.
“There are neighboring districts that were serving multiple meals per day, and they were having success,” Crawford said. “It was enabling them to serve more customers – if people have to come less days, they’re more likely to come. It’s a better value for your time. Once we made that change, we saw significant growth in participation.”
Curbside CONNECT will continue to evolve to better serve the community, Crawford said. The nutrition services team is working with its dairy partners to source milk in bulk, allowing for quarts and half gallons of milk to be offered instead of numerous smaller cartons.
“We continue to enhance the program. Like anything that is new, there is evolving guidance,” Crawford said. “Every week, I’m on a conference call with the Texas Department of Agriculture talking about the new things that have changed. The end goal is to make it as good for our families and our staff as we can because we want to keep everyone safe and everyone fed, and follow the laws and guidelines that are required for us to be able to offer this program.”