How Fresh Picks Café is Making a Difference During Covid-19

Feeding kids of Wear, NH during Covid-19.

Fresh Picks Café lunch ladies preparing student meals for delivery and pickup during Covid-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced schools and local programs for children and families to physically close or limit their services.  These closures have triggered food insecurity challenges for many communities throughout New Hampshire and Vermont, as children and students can no longer attend these places that are often their only source of nourishment for breakfast and lunch.

Without hesitation, Fresh Picks Café has wholeheartedly risen to this challenge by coordinating with existing and new community partners to relieve food insecurity across each area we serve.

More than One Million Meals Served to Children & Families

By mid-April, our teams had served one million meals to children and students throughout New Hampshire and Vermont, and will approach 1.5 million meals by the end of the school year in June.   

Fresh Picks Cafe is also working with more than a dozen school districts to develop summer food programs that continue to support families by feeding kids throughout this difficult time.  By the time school resumes in September, we anticipate serving approximately 3 million meals to kids.

Throughout every part of the process – from ingredient-sourcing, to meal preparation, to distribution – Fresh Picks Café teams play a major role in the enormous effort to feed children and families.

Freshly prepared meals for students during the Coronavirus pandemic.What Has NOT Changed During COVID-19

Our chefs and RDNs continue to collaborate and prepare balanced, healthy meals from scratch, incorporating fresh locally-sourced ingredients as often as possible. 

We continue to creatively prepare meals that surpass all local, state and USDA requirements, and appeal to kids at different grade levels.  For example, we created a “make your own pizza kit” for kids to freshly-assemble their own pizza, by separately packaging the sauce, cheese and crust.

What HAS Changed During COVID-19

Meals are now individually wrapped and packaged into boxes for delivery to designated pickup sites, or door to door delivery by school bus.

Depending on the school district, meal distribution may be 3 or 5 days per week.  The 3-day schedule includes Monday delivery of meals for Monday & Tuesday; Wednesday delivery of meals for Wednesday and Thursday; and Friday delivery of meals for Friday through Sunday.  The 5-day schedule includes daily delivery Mon-Fri, with Friday’s delivery including weekend meals.

Freshly-prepared and individually packed meals for kids.Vermont and New Hampshire have each been granted a temporary policy change area eligibility waiver from the USDA that allows any child from the age of 0-18 to receive school meals for free, without question, and without any required paperwork. This important legislation frees school nutrition programs of the administrative burden of tracking the families that qualify for free meals versus those who must typically pay, enabling them to focus on providing nutritious meals for all kids.

How the Fresh Picks Team Has Partnered to Serve Vermont Families

Below are some examples of how Fresh Picks Café is partnering with local agencies and food producers to nourish families within these 12 communities we currently serve throughout Vermont:

Mt. Holly
White River Jct.

Partnerships with Local Agencies

Vermont Feed – Fresh Picks Café Foodservice Director Ali West and her team in Brattleboro VT recently partnered with Vermont Feed, a leader in the Northeast Farm to School Collaborative that provides food-insecure families with advocacy, training and instruction, as part of the group’s mission to build a strong farm to school effort, facilitate local connections, and foster local engagement.

Student meal dilivery during Covid-19.Ground Works and the Vermont Food Bank – In the Brattleboro school district, the local food bank, Ground Works, has partnered with Food Connects and Fresh Picks Café to prepare grocery boxes for families with food insecurity. These boxes are packed onto the delivery bus with school lunches. These school meals sites and school bus delivery networks are now a lifeline, and the schools are able to lean on their Farm to School partners to serve their communities in a really meaningful way.

Food Connects – Food Connects is a non-profit farm-to-school advocacy organization that delivers locally-produced food as well as educational and consulting services that support local food systems.  Fresh Picks Café continues to maintain a strong partnership with Food Connects to source nourishing local food for Vermont school districts.

Vermont Department of Children and Families – Fresh Picks Café has partnered with the Vermont Department of Children and Families (DCF) to provide meals for homeless families that DCF has relocated to area hotels.

Partnerships with Local Food Producers

Making sandwiches with King Arthur bread donations during Covid-19.King Arthur Bakery and King Arthur Flour

King Arthur Bakery, based in Norwich, VT donated enough freshly-baked bread to supply the Hartford, Lebanon and Mascoma districts.  King Arthur Flour is donating flour for use in Fresh Picks Café kitchens during the COVID-19 crisis, as well as the firm’s “Just Add Water & Microwave Gluten Free Super Fudge Brownies” to the Hartford program.

Blake Hills Preserves

Blake Hills Preserves, based in Windham, VT is donating unlimited gallons of preserves to the Hartford district for use in Fresh Picks Café kitchens during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Within 48 hours, our team created menus, adjusted systems, placed orders, and were ready to feed families on day one after schools closed. I’m very proud their dedication.”

Kevin Sullivan, VT District Manager | Fresh Picks Café

How the Fresh Picks Team Has Partnered to Serve New Hampshire Families

Below are some examples of how Fresh Picks Café is partnering with local agencies and food producers to nourish families within these 55 communities we currently serve throughout New Hampshire:

Center Sandwich
New Hampton
New Ipswich
New London

Partnerships with Local Agencies

Lunches ready for delivery.Community Action Partnership of Strafford County, NH – The Community Action Partnership (CAP) of Strafford County is a non-profit organization that provides family service programs such as Head Start and Early Head Start programs, as well as summer programs.  Their primary foodservice program is the summer program, but a partnership between CAP, local school districts and Fresh Picks Café has enabled CAP to ensure that children in Strafford County continue to be fed as schools closed early.

Making a Difference in School Foodservice Since 1993

Fresh Picks Café was founded in 1993 to provide public K-12 schools in New England with a FRESH approach to school foodservice, with innovative programs delivered by a comprehensive, attentive, local support team.  A new approach that represents a vital alternative to the impersonal, generic approach of national foodservice providers.

Our leaders are native New Englanders who initially earned broad foodservice industry success and keen understanding of the business, but were driven to overcome the lackluster foodservice and ineffective management they observed in kitchens and cafeterias – especially those controlled by outside interests lacking local connection and context. 

They envisioned making a huge difference for school communities, and created these 3 principles that embody the Fresh Picks Café mission:  Be responsible and responsive; Be nutritious and innovative; and Be focused on each school community.

Example of nutritious lunch for students received during Covid-19.“What sets Fresh Picks Café apart is our commitment to align with each district to achieve their unique goals, and become an integral part of the school community.”

William Van Zandt, Sr. Vice President | Fresh Picks Cafe

  • Responsible and Responsive
  • Nutritious and Innovative
  • Focused on Each School Community We Serve

The COVID-19 pandemic has put these principles to the test, and inspired new protocols that ensure we fulfill our commitments to communities we serve.

Responsible and Responsive

Fresh Picks Café pioneered the art and science of responsible, responsive food service management and quality dining programs that K-12 school communities are proud to call their own.  Schools depend on Fresh Picks to be at the forefront of best practices in sourcing, preparing, and serving fresh, nutritious food.

Locally-sourced, fresh tomatoes.Now more than ever, our locally-based and flexible business model sets Fresh Picks Café apart from national school dining foodservice providers.  Our actively-involved local leaders and accessible front-line managers have quickly pivoted to embrace innovative new ways of feeding our communities.

Unlike nationally-controlled foodservice vendors, our collaborative and community-focused approach respects and adapts to your school district’s specific goals, demographics, personality and budget.   

Our specific local expertise with K-12 foodservice management – combined with our culinary talent, technology, and buying power – boosts profitability for school districts through increased dining participation, cost control, and consistent compliance.

Schools gain a dedicated local staff of chefs, RDNs, compliance officers, safety coordinators, and procurement specialists who passionately support their communities and enable them to focus on their core mission of education.

Healthy student lunch.Nutritious and Innovative

Our firm’s size and local operation allows for flexibility to delight students from elementary grades through high school with a wide variety of comfort foods, ethnic cuisines and trending culinary concepts that we mindfully create according to their distinct needs and preferences.

Focused on Each School Community We Serve

We understand that to be successful, a food service program must reflect the unique character, values, and preferences of the school community it serves. 

Our personalized focus on the goals and nuances of each community we serve has proven to benefit school districts.  We are often engaged to help schools to transition from self-operated programs, or when a national vendor’s generic “cookie cutter” program lacks local connection, participation, and promise. 

Our management structure and operational programs provide efficient operation of dining services, yet are flexible enough to address local, practical issues and opportunities that can help districts reach their full foodservice potential.

Simply put, the Fresh Picks Café team is proud to be an integral member of the school community – through the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, and all the better days ahead.