Alisa Roman, head of nutrition for Lewiston schools, sits at her “command center” in her Winthrop home. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

More than 3,300 school meals a day. Eleven sites.

And three phones to coordinate it all.

Alisa Roman runs Lewiston Public Schools’ nutrition program. In the middle of a pandemic, it isn’t easy. But it’s worth it.

Name: Alisa Roman

Age: 39

Job: Director of nutrition and transportation, Lewiston Public Schools

What got you into food? I have very early memories of my Nana having me help with buttering rolls. From there I experimented on my family with baked goods and cooking. At 15, I found myself working as a prep cook in a kitchen and eventually a bakery. I then went on to The Culinary Institute of America.

What happened to the school nutrition program when school buildings closed last spring? When I got the phone call that the district would be closing, I had all the food service managers come in for a meeting. As I also run transportation, our partners at Hudson were very easy to coordinate with. Within a day, we had a group of 75 food service staff, 14 van drivers and aides, 30 volunteers and 33 sites in the city up and going. The central office had three of us coordinating the ins and outs of the fleet and the food.

What was it like planning everything on the fly? A lot of thought goes into everything we do. I have three computer monitors going at all times and an amazing team that meets virtually to go over issues. We also work closely with our vendors to make sure we can continue to get solid deliveries of products into the city. Because I had done emergency management in a previous job, this was an easy switch for me. You have to be prepared that anything and everything that could happen will happen.

How do you do this job from home? I have a dedicated area of my house to set up all my monitors. I definitely had to adapt paperwork to make sure everything was functional. I utilize two cell phones and my home phone on a daily basis. I also have a hotspot in case my wifi goes out. One of the biggest issues was that I could not meet everyone in person as normal. I utilize my laptop’s camera and microphone for virtual meetings. I also do go into the office for paperwork and socially distanced meetings. I have grown to love my high speed scanner and programs like Adobe, which allow for secure signature lines. As far as actual food preparation, my staff are amazing and work in seven kitchens in the city. It was important that they did not get a lot of visitors, and that I didn’t visit a ton, to make sure their environments were secure. We had to set up an elaborate system in case a kitchen member got sick and a kitchen was quarantined. In that case, the other kitchens would pick up the meals to be made.

How are meals handled now with some kids at school and some are at home? Students that attend school receive breakfast and lunch in the school. Remote students can visit any school or the Root Cellar to get meals. We can send up to three days worth of meals to children 18 and under.

So what are some things on the lunch menu right now? We make bento boxes which have an entrée, fruit, veggies, grains and dairy.

Why are school meals so important? School meals help provide students with balanced nutrition. For families experiencing food insecurity this is a big deal. As Lewiston participates in the Community Eligibility Program, every student in Lewiston Public Schools receives a free meal regardless of their family’s financials. There are a ton of studies of how students who eat a balanced breakfast and lunch have higher test scores. Direct feedback to me over the years from teachers is that students pay more attention with a full belly.

How many meals do you put out a day? At how many sites? During the summer we did up to 33 sites. Currently we are operating 11 sites. We serve approximately 3,384 meals a day currently. From March until the beginning of school we served around 450,000 meals.

What’s your biggest challenge right now? A lot of families are not participating in our services because they need delivery. With our transportation focused on students going to and from school, this has made reaching remote students challenging.

Best school meal you’ve ever eaten? Honestly, I love school food. It has changed since the ’80s and ’90s. One of my personal favorite menu options is our chicken curry over rice, which we normally serve at our high school. I also enjoy spicy chicken patties and chocolate milk.

Most popular meal in Lewiston schools? Pizza, tacos, quesadillas are fan favorites, as well as traditional items like chicken nuggets.

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