MPS offers free produce, cultural recipes to help local families

It is a Thursday at Bay View High School and the halls aren’t filled with students shuffling to the next class. But there is a group of people pushing trays of produce across a six-foot table.

“One more,” as the parent says another child’s name. “Thank you!”

A silver tray, filled with pre-made meals and two bags of produce slides across the table to a family on the other side. 

The lunch line is different these days for families in the Milwaukee Public Schools that remain virtual.

“We had to think about how to get food to families safely,” said Dietitian Jessica Das. “Normally our fresh fruit and veggie program is in the classroom where kids get 1-2 ounce portions of produce and their teacher does an education lesson. With the pandemic going on, we had to get the produce items home.”

Jessica Das

Das, who has wanted to be a dietitian since she was 14, brainstormed ideas with her MPS colleagues when one idea kept rising to the surface.

“With coronavirus and all the racial tension going on this summer, all I could think is, let’s get families healthy food to build their immune system up and let’s address bringing cultures together through food,” said Das.

MPS was already offering meals to students from the district through its 50 “stop grab and go” locations. When the district decided to remain virtual for the time being, a waiver from the federal government allowed Das and her team to expand the food offerings – and fast.

“We had a lot of money to spend quickly,” smiled Das, who quickly developed a plan to distribute produce bundles and bags for students. 

The waiver allowed the district to distribute the food, and produce bags, not only to MPS students but to any child under the age of 18. Beginning in October, Das began the produce bag initiative, which is distributed every Thursday, celebrating a specific culture. In October, they celebrated Hispanic, European, Asian, and African American cultures.

November will bring a new set of cultures, themes, and produce.

“As soon as this program launched, I got about 100 emails from parents just thanking me for the program and saying how excited they were for the opportunity,” she said.

Das develops a recipe, incorporating that week’s produce, and works with vendors to compile everything for families. A videographer then records Das making each recipe so that families have step-by-step instructions on what to do and how to do it. She then uploads it to YouTube for families to see a tutorial. 

“Bringing people together just seemed like a natural gateway with produce because we all like to eat, we all have to eat every day,” said Das. “Why not give them fresh healthy food and an opportunity to learn together how to eat and prepare it?”

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The program is open to anyone, 18 and younger, at specific MPS locations five days a week. Produce bags are available on Thursday, regular meals every day. Visit MPS website for locations and hours. 

Starting October 27th, meals will also be offered 3-5 p.m. at specific locations: North Division, Obama, and South Division. CLICK HERE for more information.

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