Grants from the School Nutrition Foundation will not only ensure that the W-H Food Service Department continues to provide healthy meals kids like, they will help ease the pressure on towns’ capital matrixes as equipment ages and breaks down.
The SNF’s grant supplied the district with $20,000 Hobard Equipment Grant enabled the district to purchase an industrial mixer for large-batch recipes and deli slicer — used mainly at the high school.
“It would [otherwise] be part of the capital plan or it would come out of our fund, if we had any money in our fund,” Doucette said.
Once awarded, the recipient will work with an ITW/FEG representative to determine what best suits their school district’s needs.
New to her position, Doucette hopes to improve the kitchen facilities in Whitman-Hanson, including replacement of an aging stand mixer and adding a food slicer at the elementary school to offer fresh, daily deli sandwiches while saving on staff time and energy. Doucette also explained that various pieces of equipment are no longer functional, including a commercial steamer, food warmer and a wooden prep area that must be replaced with stainless steel.
“We have like a Subway sandwich line at the high school,” she said. “I’m not sure how that may or may not work here because the kids are so little.”
The schools provide both hot and cold lunch options every day.
Grant applications required information on the average daily participation in lunch programs, how many are on free and reduced lunch plans, whether a district had already received an equipment grant in the past.
School meal programs operate on extremely tight budgets, funded by cafeteria sales and reimbursements for meals served. With revenue declines due to COVID-19 school closures and the shift between distance learning and hybrid models, many school meal programs lack critical funds to purchase necessary equipment and supplies or cover transportation, temporary staffing and other costs associated with current COVID-19 feeding programs.
It is not the only grant the Food Services Department has received of late. Another grant of almost $24,000 through the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) helped replace refrigerated chests for milk, which the district had been renting for nearly $5,000 per month.
“I applied for the Project Bread COVID-19 Rapid Response Grant in the spring of 2020 for equipment to provide bagged meals at the beginning of the pandemic. We received $3,291.66 for a large portable milk cooler to keep the bagged meals safe for curbside pickup,” she said. “I applied for Dairy on the Go Grant in January 2021 for equipment to serve Hot Chocolate Milk at the high school. We received $940.00 for a Chocolady (Bain Marie Dispenser). We hope that having this hot option along with our cold milk will increase our students milk consumption. We are going to be giving out free samples on Thursday and Friday.”
She applied for the School Nutrition Equipment Assistance Grant in January 2021 for new milk coolers for the district. The district received $23,646.00 for 10 large portable milk coolers. It had been been leasing the milk coolers from our milk distributor.
“Not only does it eliminate a cost, it provides new equipment,” she said. “Basically all I was doing was trying to find money.”
Another milk chest was obtained from Project Bread.
“This grant will save us approximately $5,000 per year in leasing fees and also provide enough milk coolers for all of our schools for many years to come,” she said.
As students are coming back to school, the need is definitely there, said Food Services Director Nadine Doucette.
The Biden Administration is also funding lunch programs across the country so that all student lunches are free through June 2022.
“They’re all free now, so it’s just going to continue,” Doucette said. “I emailed every family that is on full remote still [so they know, as well]. We still do curbside pickup for all families that are full remote. We’ve seen that number drop dramatically, now that the kids are here full time.”