The global COVID-19 outbreak caused the world to shut down, specifically the United States in March 2020. Consequently, schools - which provided twice daily meals to students - closed, as well. This food source was one on which hundreds of thousands of children depended.
Governor Hogan of Maryland worked closely with Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) to launch feeding programs so no child would go hungry while schools were closed, and while unemployment soared to an all-time high.
MSDE and its Maryland Accountability and Reporting System (MARS) identified its partner, The Canton Group to support this initiative. Their reasoning for this was threefold:
Longstanding History & Successful Track Record
The Canton Group has a longstanding history and successful track record with the MSDE and was currently supporting the MDK12 and MDRC websites and MARS application. Not only does The Canton Group’s team have extensive hands-on experience with existing MSDE projects, but it also maintains intimate knowledge of the data resulting from these data collection systems and MSDE’s practical applications. Thus, The Canton Group was the ideal partner to support this project.
Maintaining Similar Projects
Facilitate a process by which meals offered in the programs could be obtained. One such program, the Summer Food Service Program, was available to children and teens age 18 and under as well as individuals 19 years of age and over who have a mental or physical disability and participate during the school year in a public or private non-profit school program. The program needed a process by which these children and adults could locate meals nearest them.
Robust Traceability and Analytics
Maintain detailed reporting of necessary statistics. It was critical to not only provide virtual access to the location of the meals but ensure the ability to track and report on all happenings therein. The Canton Group’s highly skilled team is adept in the technologies to maintain the key systems involved in the data collection and creation processes.
Since The Canton Group’s (CG) dedicated MARS team was currently supporting the MARS application by way of CG’s Agile methodology, together with CG’s deep knowledge of the MARS application, the transition to virtual resulting from COVID-19 was practically seamless. The CG team supported and maintained "Maryland Meals Site Search" Website which tracks all of the locations that are offering meals to children and young adults throughout Maryland.
During the Governor's weekly press conferences, Hogan would consistently point the community to the Maryland Meals Site Search, and encouraged Maryland designated officials to visit the page to claim free meals for children. Hogan’s intentionality to direct people to the site took precedence in every press conference, resulting in more and more traffic to the site.
As a result of the significant uptick in traffic, further support and maintenance from the CG team were required to keep the site running and functioning properly. In addition, more sites were added to assist the community at large, which required unprecedented site support and functionality. With the CG MARS team using Scrum as the framework within the Agile methodology by which to manage their work, they were able to shift priorities as needed, be nimble in their approach and place the appropriate focus where necessary for the "Maryland Meals Site Search" page and beyond. Updates that would normally take significant time to complete were successfully achieved at an amplified pace due to the team’s adherence to its Agile methodology
Guided by The Canton Group’s leading core value: “Commitment to doing things the right way”, quality was never compromised and speed was utilized for the sake of the client and, ultimately, the sake of the community.
The longstanding partnership with MSDE has built a relationship based on trust and longevity, so when there were any points of concern that were discovered outside of normal business hours, MSDE would contact the team; subsequently, the team would seek to proactively resolve the issues. The team would spend countless hours during both weekdays and weekends to research, find the root/cause and alleviate any concerns or issues. MSDE's response to one particular issue upon resolution was that everything looked perfect in production.
One of the biggest outcomes of being virtual during the pandemic is that the comfort level of handling online tools has increased significantly among more traditional clients, such as MSDE. Because meetings transitioned from in-person to virtual, the duration surrounding each meeting has lessened and the frequency of such meetings has increased, thus enabling ongoing, streamlined communication and expediency in initiatives. The CG team is able to display work in progress in order to secure immediate feedback from the customer on the direction of the project and proceed with current progress or deviate where necessary.
At the end of the day, The Canton Group was able to support the successful distribution of meals throughout all of Maryland and feed literally thousands of children.
The mission of the Maryland State Department of Education’s (MSDE) Office of School and Community Nutrition Program is to administer state and federal nutrition programs for public and nonprofit private schools and eligible community organizations by providing leadership, funding, food, training, technical assistance, outreach, and oversight in a manner that maximizes customer satisfaction.