GARDNER, Kan. — A Kansas City-area school district is being recognized for its work ensuring students had access to quality food over the summer.

Gardner Edgerton is one of three Kansas school districts to be recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service for its outstanding meal programs.

The Turnip the Beet award  recognizes school districts within the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP)  and the National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option that go beyond program requirements to serve students during the summer months.

Of the 84 national programs, 14 programs qualified for a gold award, 54 programs, including USD 231, qualified for a silver award and 16 qualified for a bronze award.

Barb Depew, Farm to Plate project director for the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE), said the Kansas districts selected all incorporated local produce into their summer food service. 

“These are some of our shining stars,” Depew said. “They go beyond the level of expectation.”

Last summer USD 231 served weekly curbside meal kits each Tuesday. Amy Droegemeier, director of nutrition services for Gardner Edgerton USD 231, said meal kits consisted of 14 meals and the district would provide kits to roughly 2,500 children each week.  

The district offered three different varieties of meal kits for students to choose from. Families could opt for a Greatest Hits meal kit featuring students’ favorite meals; a Meatless Mix, which included vegetarian options; or Fridge Filler option that gave students creative options, including a week of sandwich items, grilled items like hot dogs or hamburgers, or kits for nachos.

“This variety allowed our families, especially those with multiple children, to tailor their selections to their weekly plans and children’s appetites,” Droegemeier said.

The meal kits also included a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables from local farmers. In addition to the meal kits, families had the option to also pick up half gallons of 1% chocolate milk or 1% white milk. The district gave out 5,000 half gallons of milk per week. 

From March 2020 through July 2021, the district in total served about 1.6 million meals. Of the roughly 60 food service workers within the USD 231 school district, between 40 and 45 serve during the summer. 

“I think I’m most excited for my staff. I have a team that embraces thinking differently. We always dream bigger than what the bare minimum is,” Droegemeier said. “They gave selflessly these past two years. They did everything they could to meet our kids where they were. They were all in from the beginning until the last meal we served.”