Hidden Heroes


Amanda Chang, Staff Writer

Many students have bought lunch from school and many still do, even during the pandemic. 

This privilege is made possible by Arcadia Unified School District’s (AUSD) Nutrition Services Department. 

The Department is “a group to best serve the students healthy and safe meals,” said the Head of the Department, Kathleen Ashworth.

Over the course of the past year, the Department has also been the team that packs and serves the grab-and-go meals that are prepared by them, as well as performing their usual duties like ordering food from vendors.

According to the Department’s website, about 19,000 students are served every week this year, and according to Ashworth, about 3,500 students across the district are served every day. 

The figure is a big jump from the number of students that were originally served on the first day that the Department served when they got back to schools from lockdown. Although the district closed schools on Mar. 13, 2020, the Department was ready to head back to service on Mar. 18, 2020, and served about 580 students, which is 2,920 students less than the average number of students served per day at the time of publication.

This was an incredibly selfless act made by the Department since COVID-19 was a very understudied and unknown virus at the time. Vaccinations were not available and even the best ways to treat the virus were unclear. This coupled with other obstacles, made for quite a challenging job.

“Normally, the Nutrition Department had 53 staff members. Back in the spring when the pandemic started, only 10 of them felt safe enough to come back to work, so we were very limited on staff in the spring. When we came back in August, we had about 40 [staff members] come back to work,” said Ashworth, adding that about 10 of the staff had retired or resigned due to the pandemic.

A limited number of staff members was not the only problem that the Department ran into; they had to worry about the safety and health of the community, the sources of food, and a budget as well. 

Because there was little known about COVID-19 at the beginning of the pandemic, the Department was constantly looking at protocols and following them on a daily basis. This means that at the very beginning, no one wore masks because it wasn’t part of the protocol! Of course, this rule has now changed, and the Department is very serious about keeping students and the rest of the community safe. 

It was scary; I myself was concerned because everyone else was at home and here we were out there, doing what we needed to do,” said Ashworth, recalling how she felt last year.

But keeping everyone safe was also hard to do as schools and medical centers across the United States began getting their supplies from the same sources. Gloves, food, paper bags, and other materials that were necessary for safely distributing meals in a grab-and-go form were expensive and hard to get as everyone in the country tried to access them at the same time.

To add to the expenses, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) passed multiple waivers throughout the year “to allow public schools, including all AUSD schools, to provide meals at no charge to all children 18 years old and younger throughout the remainder of the school year,” says the Nutrition Services Department website.

This means that the Department is not getting the revenue that it would normally receive from students buying lunches. According to Ashworth, the impact of this is expected to create a huge dent in the Department’s finances, especially since the Department is largely self-funded. Although Ashworth is proud that over 400,000 meals have been served to students for free, she also mentioned that the Department is expected to lose about 1.4 million dollars because of the free meals.

But because of the huge challenges that the Department has had to overcome over the past year, the community has gotten a chance to grow together. Because of the limited amount of Department staff, staff from all departments of the district volunteered to help. 

“As time went on, we started to feel a little more comfortable and one of the good things that happened was that we had the support of the district. People at home started coming and help us when they saw how many students and parents were coming through, picking up meals… the superintendent came by, teachers, custodians, bus drivers, different people throughout the department would sign up for a day to come help us hand out meals so it was really neat to see the collaboration of the whole district,” Ashworth said. 

“We were really determined to make this work and feed the students. We had a great team with a great attitude and we did the best we could to stay safe,” said Ashworth of the Department.

Thank you, Nutrition Services!


Graphic Courtesy of STOCKPHOTOS.COM