Lincoln Academy Director of Food Services Mikael Andersson started delivering food to LA students when school closed in March due to the covid pandemic.
Mikael Andersson has always known that his job as Dining Services Director at Lincoln Academy is about more than just food service. “Without nutrition, you can’t learn. School is about more than education, it is about building a community, and food has to be a part of that.”
When he first learned that school would close in the middle of March, Andersson realized his role would be crucial to continuing the school’s mission remotely, and he immediately jumped into action. “Classes can take a week off, but people still need to eat. That can’t wait.” He spent many hours on the phone and email investigating what services the school would be permitted to provide during the covid crisis, and what services would be reimbursed by the state and Federal government.
In a few days he ascertained that LA could prepare and deliver food to any student who wanted to receive meals, regardless of whether they qualify for free and reduced lunch benefits. Soon he had 125 students signed up for meals, and broke the schedule into deliveries on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. “We bring 7 breakfasts and seven lunches to each student in those three deliveries.”
To accomplish this efficiently and safely, he retooled the LA kitchen. “We took out all of the round tables from the dining room, and set up three large assembly lines, and each line has a purpose. We cook everything the day before so it can cool and get put in boxes, then walk around in a big circle to create the delivery bags.”
Using the entire large space of the dining room allows the kitchen staff to work safely. “As much as possible we keep six feet apart. The menu is structured so we have one meal that is a sandwich and one meal that can be heated.” This division of food provides variety, and also “creates an invisible line inside of the kitchen so one cook can make hot food and one can make sandwiches.”
The meals are delivered by LA Ed Techs, which both allows these hourly employees to continue working during this period, and also provides continuity for students, who recognize familiar faces when they show up with a delivery.
Students really look forward to the LA van showing up three days a week. “At many houses kids are waiting outside when we get there,” said Adria Tucker who works as an Ed Tech in the LA Library when the school is open and now delivers food three days a week. “It is really awesome to be that person in between, because we get to see the kids faces when most teachers can’t.”
“Even though the kids aren’t in school it is our way of bringing Lincoln Academy to them.”
The delivery vans have become an important mode of delivering other supplies as well, including technology, textbooks, materials for art classes, and even one student’s glasses that were left in a locker before school closed. “Some students always come and chat with us. It is their way of connecting with the social piece. It is another reminder that we are all in this together,” said Tucker.
Most public schools in Maine are delivering meals to students during the school closure, but Andersson goes above and beyond simply providing nutrition. He varies the menu to include meals like chicken curry with sauteed vegetables, homemade reuben sandwiches, and make-your-own pizza kits delivered in a pizza to-go box. He loves to fulfill student requests. Andersson communicates largely through the LA Dining Services Facebook page, where he posts menu teasers, photos of the meals being prepared, and hints about surprises in the works, like when he procured 150 chocolate bunnies from Renys and added one to each bag before Easter. His extra efforts mean a lot to families.
“Chef Mikael has a great sense of humor,” said LA parent Becky Hallowell. “He connects with kids, so they know they are still being thought of.”
For Hallowell, the meals have provided an important connection to LA for her two teenage sons, Nate and Sam True. She decided to sign up for meals a few weeks after schools closed, when she found out that any family, not just those who qualify for free and reduced benefits, could get meals from LA.”When Sam realized that he was going to miss out on his senior spring and graduation, he sort of checked out. I thought the meals might cheer him up, and they have. So much has been taken away from these kids, and getting the meals gives some consistency.”
For Hallowell, who teaches fourth grade at Wiscasset Elementary school, “It is one less thing that I have to worry about while I am working from home, but it is so much more than that. It feels like the nurturing from school has continued. Food connects us–we come together over food. The meal delivery is that string, like in the Chinese legend, the red thread that connects people.
“It is filling their heart, not just their stomachs.”