Horizon Heroes: Dinuba Unified School District serves community with meal program

Horizon Heroes: Dinuba Unified School District serves community with meal program
Sheri Pape

There are times in everyone’s career where you truly see and feel the impact of your work. At Dinuba Unified School District, the child nutrition team has learned how their curbside meal program is not only feeding families but breaking the cycle of poverty through education.

“In the beginning, the students had to be present to pick up curbside meals. We experienced families packing up to seven children in the car. No seat belts in a car that barely had tires and gas to get them to the pickup areas,” explained Kelly Smith, director of child nutrition at Dinuba USD.

Smith described one family that arrived on a hot summer day where temperatures were soaring above 100 degrees. The parents left their jobs picking fruit in a field and piled seven kids in a car with no air to make it in time to get their food boxes. This is when it really hit home for Smith and her team.

“We saw poverty. My staff made it a mission to reach all of them,” she said.

This is when the Dinuba child nutrition team developed a plan to go out to rural areas and reach parents where they work. Many district parents spend their days in the fields and have little to no transportation. Since picking up meals became a challenge, and these families relied on the food to feed their children, the department recruited bus drivers and other staff to go out to rural areas.

The job was difficult, and about six months in Smith could see the physical and emotional toll it was taking on her team. She decided it was time to implement some fun activities to lift the spirits of her staff and show the kids how much they loved them.

“We did line dancing in the kitchens and had a pop-up decorating contest for each holiday. Halloween was by far the best. They decorated their pop up with the Disney movie theme and dressed the parts,” Smith shared.

Other activities included Twin Day where staff dressed like their coworkers. They also created welcome signs for students at meal pickup locations, partnered with the county library to give away coloring packs and books, and even wrote special messages on bananas to show the kids how much they cared.

Smith shared that it was also important for the staff to be recognized. “I made goody bags and hosted several recognition meetings to include a personal message from all of our principals.”

Her goal was “fun, fun, fun” to keep her team motivated. And it worked. The team is now stronger and closer than ever and living out the district’s mission “to end generational poverty through education” every day.

We are so thankful to work with school nutrition heroes like the Dinuba USD team. Keep fighting for your kids and know that Horizon is proud to be your partner.