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INDIANAPOLIS – The pandemic showed that thousands of Indiana families rely on meals served at school each day.  

When kids couldn’t attend in person, Hoosier Heroes in food and nutrition departments have had to find a way to feed students and provide them healthy options from a distance.

The cafeterias inside Lawrence Township schools represent family for Tamara Harlan.

“They touch my heart,” said Harlan. “I’m not going to lie about that.”

When the pandemic forced kids to stay home last year the cafeteria manager at Crestview Elementary knew there was no time or food to waste.

“It was emotional all at one time trying to figure out where we’re going, how we’re going to do it, how many we’re serving,” Harlan added.

With a staff of five and more than 400 kids to feed, her team started to serve curbside breakfast and lunch meals.

“About 65% of our students are on free or reduced lunch,” explained Stephanie Tragesser, the director of food and nutrition services for MSD Lawrence Township. “Not only those families – but other families that had needs, like of losing jobs.  It was a very unknown situation for everyone.”

As the need grew, so did their efforts. The department added weekend pickups. These lunch heroes continue to provide meal options for students who are back in class, hybrid and virtual. They’re approaching 750,000 curbside meals.

“It’s been everchanging and my staff hasn’t missed a beat and served every child with a smile,” said Tragesser.

With the end of the school year approaching, the work in the kitchen is far from over.

“Going out to apartment complexes and neighborhoods that need us for students that cannot get to school or younger students who cannot enroll in that program,” Tragesser said while explaining what efforts will still be ongoing for the summer.

For Harlan and her team, it hasn’t been easy working on the frontlines, but knowing her kids are fed and have healthy meals, makes it all worth it.

“We did a good job,” said Harlan. “I love the kids. I love what I do.”

May 7 is known as School Lunch Hero Day. It’s the eighth annual celebration recognized by the School Nutrition Association.