We just concluded an unprecedented and extremely unusual year. Amongst its many obstacles, it was one in which school food service professionals were challenged in nearly every possible way and had to greatly pivot to still be able to serve every child in need.
We at the Life Time Foundation also had to adjust our focus in order to best serve and support our partners during these difficult times. We’re honored to have been able to do so, but also know that just because the year has ended does not mean the challenges have.
2020 tested us to come up with new and improved ways to work with our partners and communities and advance our mission. We learned a great deal about the power of collaboration and are excited about the future of food in school and the work ahead of us in 2021. Here are a few highlights.
Our Efforts in 2020
When the COVID-19 pandemic first began in the early spring, our work was temporarily halted. We patiently waited for our partners to guide us as to how we could be there for them as they figured out how to make sure no child went hungry.
Shortly after this brief pause, we learned of the clear need for protective equipment and other safety and sanitation items to ensure the virus would not be transmitted while food was being delivered. It was then that we began our COVID-19 Assistance School Grants program to provide funds for those items that our partners did not have budget for, such as masks, gloves, thermometers, and cleaning supplies.
We could not have made the impact we did without the generosity of thousands of Life Time athletes who, when Life Time was forced to cancel races around the country, chose to donate their already-paid entry fees to the Life Time Foundation. Thousands more also chose to donate on separate occasions throughout the year, securing more than $350,000 to assist with emergency needs for our school partners.
While it was critical for us to provide specific pandemic-related support, there was also much hope and action for a future of really good food in schools.
Our commitment to our mission to collaborate with schools to eliminate the Harmful 7 categories of ingredients of concern continues to grow. We are thrilled to have welcomed six new district partners to this effort in 2020. The Life Time Foundation now collaborates with 27 school districts, impacting more than 1,658,000 students served in 3,554 school sites across the United States.
Through collaborative actions with school food leaders and other non-profits, we also began work on accelerating the elimination of highly processed foods as well as increasing scratch cooking practices. By combining our independent efforts to work together toward a bigger picture, we discovered our collective potential to create sustainable change in these areas.
Our Sights for 2021
While we are very proud of the growth we experienced and impact we made in 2020, we realize that if we want to accelerate true change across the country and serve all (or close to) 14,000 U.S. school districts, we have to innovate.
In 2021, we will start to develop free online resources in an effort to support as many school food professionals as possible with procuring better quality foods for their districts.
This initiative goes hand-in-hand with the work we’ve been doing with individual school districts since 2011, in which our funding and staff registered dietitian would work to help eliminate the Harmful 7 from their school’s meals. We will continue investing in that one-on-one district work, however, the online resources will help us extend our reach further than we may have otherwise been able to.
Because of our strong belief in cooking from scratch — as that allows us to best control ingredients — we will continue to work with ScratchWorks, a collective of school food professionals and non-profit organizations, in their commitment to supporting school districts in cooking scratch-made meals using whole, fresh ingredients.
Important change is taking place in the food system, especially with the food being served in schools. We see a collaborative approach through alignment with strategic partners as proving to be key to positive change and lasting progress.