Walpole Public Schools
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“When the CDC said they wanted all the food we served to be prepackaged, I was thinking, ‘How are we going to do this?’”
It was a basic question faced by many schools at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic — but one without a satisfying answer for Maria Hall, RD, school nutrition director for Walpole Public Schools in Massachusetts. Simple rolling carts didn’t provide enough capacity or adequate food safety. Heated and cooled equipment options were cumbersome and typically required special electrical hook ups.
That’s when she discovered ExpressLine from LTI and contacted Stephen Goldstein with CR Peterson Associates.
Purpose-built to support mobile feeding needs, ExpressLine is a portable serving counter that can hold prepackaged foods at safe hot or cold temperatures. Heavy-duty casters make it easy to transport food to serve students from a classroom, hallway or other remote location. And a standard plug means the unit can be plugged into any nearby outlet.
As a ServSafe Certified Instructor, Hall said she takes food safety very seriously, so the heated and cooled ExpressLine units were the ideal solution.
“That is my number one reason personally. And because these plug into a regular outlet, that’s huge for us,” she said. “That means we can put these carts just about anywhere, giving us the flexibility to come up with some innovative solutions to these challenges.”
Hot and cold ExpressLine counters were installed at the high school, middle schools and elementary schools across the district. Each location is using the counters slightly differently, taking advantage of the unique flexibility and versatility to serve students safely and efficiently.
ExpressLine goes to school
At Walpole High School, ExpressLine counters are stationed in various locations throughout the school — including in hallways and common areas — so that the approximately 600 students attending on any given day can pick up boxed lunches without congregating in the cafeteria. Hall said the team actually counted the number of students walking down hallways at lunch time to decide where the best locations would be for the units.
At one of the two middle schools in the district, ExpressLine is positioned by the front entrance to allow students to grab a breakfast box right as they enter school and to serve as a second lunch pick-up location. At the other middle school, the ExpressLine acts as a second point of service in the cafeteria, allowing students to be spaced farther apart while getting their meals.
Elementary school students are picking up meals and eating exclusively in their classrooms. At these schools, ExpressLine counters are essentially cafeteria outposts, strategically placed to allow them to serve the most classrooms from one location.
“Students in half the building can go to the cafeteria to pick up their food, and the students in the other half can go to the nearby ExpressLine to get their lunches,” Hall said. “The lowerators inside the units give us a lot of capacity to store food safely so that we can serve a number of classrooms with one loading.”
The convenience (and the federal program that’s allowing schools to feed students for free) also means breakfast participation has skyrocketed, going from serving 25 or 30 breakfasts a day pre-pandemic when all students were in school to serving about 100 a day with only half the students in attendance per day.
ExpressLine is even being used to feed students not in school. The district’s food distribution program allows students to take home meals for the days they’re not in school and offers meals to students who are 100% virtual. In one recent week, the district handed out 13,000 meals in one day.
“Being able to just run an extension cord outside and plug in this counter to keep food cold while we serve so many families — that’s a big deal for us,” Hall said.
The future of ExpressLine
Once the pandemic and the unique limitations it imposes are past, Hall said she sees other helpful uses for these counters.
She said they may consider continuing to serve high school lunches at different locations throughout the school facility to provide convenient options for students.
And several special programs would benefit from the flexibility and convenience of ExpressLine. Extended day programs that provide breakfasts or afternoon snacks could use ExpressLine as a distribution center. Or there are potential uses for existing programs like a regular senior citizen supper program or parent-child cooking class.
The district also does a great deal of catering for events where ExpressLine could be particularly useful.
“The ability to set it up and leave it and know the food is safe and ready — that’s a great opportunity,” Hall said.