UMass Dining Services and Amherst Public Schools serve Amherst youth amid COVID-19 emergency

Providing meals during the pandemic

Collegian+file+photo

Collegian file photo

By Maria Elena Little Endara, Assistant Social Editor

The University of Massachusetts Dining Services are offering meals to over 400 students from Amherst Public Schools during the COVID-19 pandemic to combat food insecurity.

The project is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture and provides lunch and breakfast for students who rely on meals at school. According to UMass’ Director of Dining Services Garett DiStefano, the program is open to anyone under the age of 18.

UMass’ Baby Berk food truck, which is distributing the meals, stops at seven housing and apartment complexes: Olympic, North Village, Village Park, Southpoint, Butternut, Colonial Village and Rolling Green. The food truck begins making stops at 10:30 a.m. and ends at 1 p.m., stopping for 15 minutes at each stop.

“During the current scenario, we want to create as much social distancing at possible, we want to move people as quickly as we can to not create gatherings,” said DiStefano.

“We put both the breakfast and lunch items together. They are cold items we rotate through on a daily basis. There are basic criteria for what we can put together for their meals, for example, they might have granola bars, yogurt, juice and fruit for breakfast. Lunch might be sandwiches, a fruit cup, and maybe carrots on hummus,” explained DiStefano.

There are a variety of options available to be able to provide for students with food allergies. DiStefano said that the Dining Services want “to open it up to as many people as [they] possibly can.”

Ken Toong, executive director of auxiliary enterprises, said the University is happy to work with the town and its schools.

“It’s always good to be able to help neighbors in need, especially during this uncertain time. Our team is more than willing to assist in any way. We are reminded daily that we are all in this together and we can help each other get through it,” Toong said.

“We’re building community around food during this unprecedented time. UMass Dining will provide healthy, sustainable breakfasts and lunches, on a daily basis, for more than 400 students,” said DiStefano.

Superintendent of Amherst-Pelham Regional Public Schools Michael Morris said, “This is another example of the outstanding partnership between the Amherst Regional Public Schools and UMass. Providing nutritious meals for our students is a top priority during this unprecedented situation, and UMass is helping the district to ensure that the needs of all of our students are met.”

The program is similar to ones implemented by USDA during the summer when students are not in school.

“I feel very lucky and blessed to have the team I do,” said DiStefano about his colleagues. He praised his colleague, Chris Fisher, for continuously championing summer food programs for youth. “Chris and his team have been doing some great work and are a great showcase of the great folks that we get to work with on a routine basis.”

According to UMass officials, the duration of the new program depends on whether Amherst Public Schools will reopen before June 30. If schools remain closed, it will roll straight into the 2020 summer meals service.

Maria Elena Little Endara can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @LittleEndara.