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Sodexo to change up schools' meal plan for winter break

The Medford School District and its food partner Sodexo USA will be handing out holiday meal kits that include breakfast and lunch for an entire week for students on Monday and Dec. 28 at North Medford High School.

The kits will be distributed from noon to 6 p.m. both days on North Medford’s north-side parking lot on the gym side of campus. The district is asking families to register for meals on the district website (medford.k12.or.us) to help Sodexo prepare the correct number of meals. Failure to do so will not disqualify families from receiving meals.

Ruch Outdoor Community School will also hand out meal kits on the same days, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. both days.

Regular meal sites and buses will be closed from Dec. 21 through Jan. 3.

According to Jeff Ashmun, an area general manager for Sodexo, the decision to distribute meals in two large handouts rather than sticking to the every weekday routine Sodexo employs during most of the school year came down to safety and convenience.

“The weekly package gives a more ‘grocery bag’ refrigerator/pantry friendly package,” he explained in an email. “Since there is no academic instruction during this period, families are not focused on school meals. It cuts down on trips to get food for families in the holidays as well as COVID ‘touches’ during this heightened time. In addition, our employees have holiday responsibilities as well, and we want to offer them time with their families.”

Sodexo has a similar plan in store for the Phoenix-Talent School District, which will distribute meals the next two Mondays but at three sites — Talent Elementary (noon to 1 p.m. and 4:30-5:30 p.m.), Orchard Hill Elementary (noon to 1 p.m. and 4:30-5:30 p.m.) and Phoenix Elementary (noon to 6 p.m.).

Ashmun added that his goal is to continue to make weekly meals an option when school returns.

The meals will be designed to be more refrigerator- and pantry-friendly, with slightly larger portions but less packaging.

Ashmun said Sodexo’s meals will be interchangeable by design to give families more options.

“For instance,” he said, “we’ll be having ham and dinner rolls and mashed potatoes. We’ll be putting in salad and Brussels sprouts and different things that can be put together in different ways, that can be made into salads, that can be made into sandwiches, that can be made into a main course entrée.”

On Dec. 28, for example, the included food items include pasta and chicken fillets that can be turned into cheesy pasta, spaghetti and marinara with a chicken salad on the side, and so on.

According to Ashmun, Sodexo distributed 20,000 meals to MSD students prior to Thanksgiving break and has handed out 245,000 meals so far this school year.

Ashmun said the United States Department of Agriculture essentially adapted its Summer Food Service Program to handle school meals during COVID-19 school closures, a move that has helped solve at least one problem local families face.

“So they’ve done a really good job,” he said. “It was a little painful in the beginning, but they’ve done a good job of building flexibilities in to allow meals to be taken from the site, to allow parents to pick up for kids — some things that are against rules normally but that are, from common-sense standpoint, required in COVID.”

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.

Sodexo USA employees organize food bags that will be distributed to students in the Medford School District. Sodexo, which handles the district's meals program, will be distributing food kits the next two Mondays at North Medford High School. (Courtesy photo)