Hla Hla Sein, a student nutrition worker at Tenderloin Community School, distributes school lunches from Revolution Foods to third graders on Thursday, April 25, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Don’t let San Francisco’s schoolchildren go hungry

San Francisco’s school board voted on April 23 to end its contract with the company Revolution Foods to provide more than 30,000 meals a day for children and youth in San Francisco public schools. The board has no plan for replacing Revolution Foods. The district’s student nutrition director, Jennifer LeBarre, is not recommending ending the contract. The board can still reverse its decision.

Here are some facts.

The Revolution Foods contract will expire July 1, and after that, students will be without school meals this summer. Many students depend on the school meals and will suffer real hunger without them.

Getting the contract with Revolution Foods completed took more than a year. Even if another food provider were found, it would take at least eight months to get another contract in place, because of the complicated rules set by federal, state and local governments. The company suggested by some community members, Lunch Master, can provide only about 18,000 meals a day. Using more than one provider would mean unequal meals at different schools, as well as huge complications.

It’s not feasible to have a restaurant, caterer or small-scale business provide 30,000 school meals a day for reasons besides the large number. The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) subsidizes school meals for low-income students, and requires the meals to follow stringent and complex rules. The penalty for not meeting those guidelines is losing the NSLP money – an unthinkable blow to the district’s finances – and the guidelines are rigorously enforced. School meals require a vendor that knows how to meet the requirements.

Revolution Foods’ meals are prepared one day ahead in San Lorenzo, with fresh ingredients. Before Revolution had the contract, the previous meal provider prepared the food in Chicago and trucked it across the country frozen. There are no known vendors that can match Revolution Foods for local, fresh preparation and ability to provide 30,000 meals while meeting the NSLP school meal requirements, Good Food Purchasing Program requirements and the district’s strict Wellness Policy. The district’s Student Nutrition Services department is working with Revolution Foods to address the serious concerns raised by students, parents and board members.

The vision is to have all meals cooked at school sites from scratch. But only a few SFUSD schools currently have kitchens that allow for cooking from scratch, and those have major problems with equipment and facilities. Cooking food from scratch would require a large, trained staff, which would cost much more. By 2028, the goal is to build a state-of-the-art central kitchen to produce high-quality meals for the entire district, and eliminate more than 80% of pre-packaged meals. But children need to eat in the meantime.

Libby Albert has over 20 years experience in the field of child nutrition, including 7 years at the United States Department of Agriculture and 1 year as the Director of SFUSD’s Student Nutrition Services.

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