Have you ever been hungry? I mean, really hungry? Where nothing else seems possible until you get some food in your belly? In America before the pandemic, 11 million children felt that way every day. And now? Projections show that number closer to 18 million. Even in the best of times, the work performed by the Office of Children’s Affairs (OCA) Tasty Food team is considered essential.

Andrea Garcia-Schoezel and Susan Gallo are responsible for managing the Tasty Food program for the City of Denver, which gives out over 800 dinners a day at 23 sites across the community. When emergency feeding was needed at the outset of the pandemic, Andrea and Susan switched gears in a matter of days to move their meal service model to a grab-n-go option so that the children who need this nutritious meal each day could still get it safely. This might sound easier than it is, but when you factor in all of the federal and state regulations that have to be met, the coordination with the food vendor to deliver the new option to all 23 sites, and the training and communication that site staff needed, it took some serious dedication to innovation. Good thing that’s always been in abundant supply for Susan and Andrea, who have been innovating since 2018 when they went through Denver Peak Academy’s Green Belt program. Both also earned their Black Belts at the end of February this year.

Andrea Garcia-Schoelzel and Susan Gallo make up the Tasty Food Team!

But certification has never been the pinnacle for these two. Susan and Andrea have fully integrated continuous improvement into every aspect of their important work. When they needed to prioritize their 2020 goals, they used an Impact Effort Matrix. When they needed to come up with waste reduction strategies, they used the Plus/Delta tool. And before summer is over, they plan to have a Voice of the Customer listening session with site staff to learn from their experiences executing the program on the front lines.

In addition to that work, Andrea, who is responsible for the operational side of Tasty Food, has implemented several innovations to streamline operations, often pivoting to accommodate the new normal in a lasting way. For example, she recently created a virtual training to replace the in-person training that used to be the norm for ensuring site staff were familiar with all the rules and regulations related to serving food to children. Not only does this help her respond to social distancing requirements and recreation staff furloughs (the majority of the Tasty Food sites are recreation centers throughout the city, run by Denver Parks and Recreation staff), but it also allows her to ensure a more standardized presentation of the needed information while saving facilitation and training time. It also allows each staff member to train at their own pace and eliminates the need for their shift responsibilities to be covered for a half-day in-person training. She also created a worksheet for staff to enhance comprehension as they participate in the virtual training.

Susan and Andrea used an Impact Effort Matrix to help them prioritize their goals for 2020.

Due to the standardized feeding times that came with emergency feeding, Susan has implemented a ‘Timely’ nudge from the Behavioral Insight Techniques to shoot a text message to all site staff near the end of feeding time to update their Meal Tracker numbers in their online tracking system, which has resulted in more accuracy for compliance.

I could go on and on about the dedication of these two women to such an important and necessary cause for Denver’s youth, but I think their supervisor OCA Deputy Director Amber Anderson summed it up best when she recently said, “when I think of their work during this time, the word bravery comes to mind. They bravely move forward and try new things over and over again, never being deterred by new roadblocks or surprising outcomes. They just keep pushing for the kids who need it most.”

If these two superheroes have inspired you to help Save Our City, consider signing up for Denver Peak Academy’s new Public Service Superhero two-day training. It’s a new way for a new day, with tools and strategies to specifically help you serve our community during this crisis. You can sign up here.

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