School Food Authorities’ Role in Emergency Feeding Procedures (Part 2 of 2)

Source: Marketplace (Flood victims gathering for food in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey)Source: USDA

(The first part of the article can be found here.)

In the face of a disaster that requires an emergency feeding operation, schools play an important role in providing the space, personnel and food required for congregate meal service. Therefore, especially since disaster response situations can be very chaotic, school food authorities (SFAs) must be knowledgeable of procedures and prepared to respond quickly when a disaster strikes to ensure that all those in need receive food.

    Before the disaster, the SFA of a given school feeding program should contact their local jurisdiction and request that they be added to the local Emergency Response Team (ERT) so that they can be involved in future planning. Once on the community’s ERT, the SFA can make a presentation explaining how the school food service department would be able to assist in disaster-related congregate feeding, as well as work with the ERT to identify the sources of USDA foods available in the community. The ERT and SFA can then determine the SFA’s exact role in the feeding operation and share their plans with the State Distributing Agency (SDA), which must support any proposed local disaster response plan. “In case of emergency” items such as shredded chicken or pork should always be on hand in freezers, as they can be very useful when feeding the masses quickly. Moreover, it is essential to create an emergency contact list and ensure that it remains up-to-date: keeping a response plan current should be included in the job description of a member of the SFA team so that the list is accurate when needed.

    When the disaster hits, the SDA or the local disaster feeding organization will notify the SFA if their site will be used for meal distribution. The USDA does not need to approve use of USDA foods as long as they are from the state where the disaster occurred, but the SDA must be notified as soon as possible of any USDA food usage. Only SFAs can distribute and use USDA foods from their own inventory; however, it is up to the food service director (FSD) to determine whether the SFAs or disaster relief organizations are ultimately in charge of the kitchen. In terms of menu planning, the Red Cross must create menus, submit requests for certain foods, and track meals and USDA foods used. SFAs are also responsible for tracking inventory. Therefore, having the SFAs participate in the planning process is beneficial, as their standard school menus coincide well with what they have stocked. While USDA foods should only be distributed to eligible recipients, it is acceptable for volunteers to also receive meals as long as they do not outnumber the eligible recipients. All meals should be recorded and a separate record of USDA food usage during the disaster should be kept to ensure proper replacement or reimbursement.

    According to Danielle Bock, the Flood Recovery Manager for Community Food Share during the 2013 Colorado floods, one of the most important aspects of the disaster response is effective communication with the families in need, and that means through every means possible. The administration and teachers play an important role because they are constantly in contact with students. However, many students are unable to make it to school in the weeks directly after a disaster, such as during the Colorado floods, in which case task forces must publicize the feeding efforts through social media, at temporary shelters, FEMA sign-ups and churches, through flyers and radio ads, etc. Determining how to communicate with newly displaced families should be a part of the emergency preparation plan. Possible means of communication may include a school or community website, a Facebook or Twitter page, or local radio or TV announcements. In any case, families should be informed of how they will be able to receive info in the event of displacement before an emergency occurs.

     After the disaster, SFAs must work with the state to swiftly submit documentation of the disaster response procedure and USDA food usage. If the disaster has a “Presidential Disaster Declaration,” USDA can reimburse or replace the used stocks. However, if the disaster does not have a presidential declaration and is therefore only a “Situation of Distress,” the USDA will try to reimburse if funds are available. If USDA foods were further processed and were only a part of the final product, the portion of food used that is not from USDA can be claimed by submitting a request to the local Office of Emergency Management, which works directly with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA also reimburses 75% of the cost of non-food supplies used in a Presidentially Declared Disaster – the other 25%, or the cost in full in a Situation of Distress, must be reimbursed by individual states. Similar rules apply to compensation for disaster-related overtime.


Katie Kuhl, Research Assistant, Smarter Lunchrooms Movement National Office

Erin Sharp, MS, MAT, Curriculum Designer, Smarter Lunchrooms Movement National Office

Ashley Moen, MS, RD, SNS, Summer Meal Programs Supervisor, Colorado Dept. of Education, Office of School Nutrition



Disaster Feeding Guidance for School Food Authorities Using USDA Foods (USDA, April 2014)

Interview with Danielle Bock, SNS, and Kara Sample, RDN, SNS, Greeley-Evans Weld County School District 6