Cassopolis food services director continues to feed children amid COVID-19 closures

CASSOPOLIS — The Cassopolis Public School kitchens have been looking different for the past seven weeks. Instead of cooks working in an assembly line, preparing both hot and cold meals to be served to hungry children awaiting food in a crowded cafeteria, food staff have been packing up a week’s worth of breakfasts and lunches at a time for students to take and enjoy at home.

“This is a lot different than we are used to,” said Cassopolis Public Schools Food Service Director Heather Rigby. “This is not how we typically feed our kids, but we just figured it out.”

From 3 to 5 p.m. every Monday, families can take part in no-contact food distributions at Sam Adams Elementary or the Penn Township Fire Station throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. For each student, families can receive seven breakfasts and seven lunches to serve children for the week. Throughout the week leading up to each distribution, Rigby and her staff are working at the schools preparing and planning the meals. Each week, the schools serve between 700 and 850 children. Since the pandemic began, the schools have distributed 63,674 meals.

As schools are currently closed, things look different inside the kitchens, with increased sanitation measures and individual work stations set up at least 6 feet apart from each other. Despite this, Rigby said the food service team’s mission had stayed the same — to feed the children of Cassopolis.

“For some families, this is a lifeline they can count on because we know we have students who rely on their school meals for the nutrition they get in a day,” Rigby said. “The food we are providing is helping those kids that are falling between the cracks right now.”

Though she now lives in Granger with her husband, Rigby was born and raised in Cassopolis, which is why she felt taking the food service director job at Cassopolis schools was the right fit for her. Having been in her position since November, Rigby said she is proud to be serving her hometown during a time of crisis.

“I believe we are here to serve,” she said. “I’m living my best life when I am able to be serving others with the talents I have been given. I’m honored to have the opportunity to do that.”

However, Rigby does not take credit for the work that is being done at the schools. She said the success of the food distributions is down to the hard work of the entire food service staff.

“This has been about getting creative with what we are providing,” she said. “It’s a team that makes this happen. We would not be where we are at if we didn’t have the wonderful people that are all working together.”

Rigby is not the only one who is excited about the work the food service team is doing during the pandemic. Superintendent Angela Piazza said she is also proud of how the staff is responding to the needs of the community at this time.

“[Rigby] is new to her position this year and has just blown us away with her management,” Piazza said. “She has pulled together an amazing team that reaches above and beyond.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues and Cassopolis Public Schools continue to offer food distribution, Rigby said she would continue to adjust procedures to adhere to best practices and to best serve the community by meeting children’s nutritional needs.

“We are #RangerStrong, and we are here,” she said.

Leader Publications is featuring the stories of those on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic — essential workers, who still go to work every day to serve the public despite the potential danger. To nominate an essential worker, who you think deserves to be featured, email news@leaderpub.com.