Winston Foodservice has awarded its annual Winston Equipment Grant Award to the White Bear Lake Area Schools in Minnesota. This annual grant program was established in partnership with the School Nutrition Foundation (SNF) to help deserving schools serve hot, nutritious meals to their students.
Grant winners may choose any ten pieces of Winston’s CVap® equipment, WBL Area Schools selected ten CVap holding cabinets (models HMA018 and HA4522).
The schools’ Student Nutrition Services Director, Bridget Lehn, is frank about the challenges her district faces, and making do with aging equipment, but optimistic about the effect new cabinets will have. “New equipment will increase meal participation due to the improved quality of food. Our current warmers are either scorching food or not keeping it warm enough. Some of the warmers are adding excess moisture or drying out product, all due to inconsistent heating or lack of insulation. Word of mouth moves quickly; the kids are very intuitive and will notice the improved food. When they tell their friends, participation goes up.”
About White Bear Lake Area Schools
The White Bear Lake Area School District serves all or parts of Birchwood, Gem Lake, Hugo, Lino Lakes, Little Canada, Maplewood, North Oaks, Vadnais Heights, White Bear Lake and White Bear Township, with four Early Childhood program locations (birth-K), nine elementary schools (K-5), two middle schools (6-8), a two-campus high school (9-12), an Area Learning Center and a Transition Education Center. The school district, with a total population of approximately 63,000 residents, serves nearly 9,000 students PreK-12.
Like a lot of people in the foodservice industry, I didn’t intend on ending up here. Also, like a lot of people in the foodservice industry, I didn’t intend on still being here over a decade later. One of the many reasons I still am, however, is the fact that I’ve been fortunate enough to work with Child Nutrition the entire time. There’s truly not a better collection of warm and caring individuals in this world and I am proud to be a part of their family. And what I am most proud of is when my other family, Winston Industries, provides the Equipment Grant Award. Well, that and keeping me employed…
Every year through a competitive grant process at SNF, our company gives away 10 pieces of equipment (of the winner’s choosing) in our holding cabinet or oven line. That amount of free equipment could represent a monumental change for anybody, much less a district in extreme need! Covering the Southeast, I’ve been lucky enough to work directly with three of these grant winners, as well as a district in my home state of Mississippi who we helped post-Katrina. This year lightning struck again and I got my fourth winner, Hernando County Public Schools in Brooksville, Fla.
Hernando County has about 25 schools and Food & Nutrition Services Director, Lori Drenth, designated nine sites to receive the seven Holding Cabinets and three Thermalizer Ovens she chose after winning. Along with helping to feed an increasing number of students in older kitchens, this equipment will allow her staff to be able to truly do batch cooking and serve food at its highest quality. And as she said, “it’s like Christmas when a kitchen gets new equipment and it instills a sense of pride in the employees knowing their school is getting that investment.” It gives me that same sense of pride to work with these people and a company that makes money selling equipment, but also gives some away for a good cause!
You can apply for next year’s grant starting on January 10, 2017. Learn more here!
I was recently scheduled to do a demo on one of our CVap® Retherm Ovens at the Tift County School District in Georgia. I was looking at their menus for that day to see what we would be cooking when I saw the words: NO SCHOOL/PARENT/TEACHER CONFERENCE. A frightening thought entered my mind that no staff would be there and we would need to reschedule. Actually, my first thought was, YES! No School!, a juvenile reflex, I guess. So I sent a note to Kogi, one of the Assistants to the Director, and asked if they would be in that day. “Yes,” she said, “it’s a student holiday, but still a work day.” Awesome, not only will they be in, but I’ll have their complete attention while doing my demo. But, will they be in a bad mood? Not these lunch ladies!
When I walked in the kitchen, it was humming. Every staff member was busy cleaning and organizing. I announced my arrival to the manager, and she gathered her flock around the CVap Retherm Oven for my demo. And just as I had thought, I got their complete attention. They were engaged, asking questions, even had smiles on their faces. We cooked our frozen pizzas on Channel 3 for about 12 minutes and they came out great. The ladies ate and we talked some more, but then they went right back to the deep clean, smiles still on their faces. I was borderline astonished. Not only are these ladies doing the job most people hate (imagine deep cleaning your kitchen and multiply it by 10), but they also have to listen to me, the company gasbag, trying to tell them how to cook in our oven. But, not these lunch ladies!
A little background on what lunchroom staffs do each day. Nationwide, these workers prepare and serve over 30 million lunches and 14 million breakfasts daily. Some even provide meals at night and through the summer for their communities. They greet rambunctious kids with a smile and perhaps the only nourishment they will receive that day. Then they clean and scrub and, for a lot of them, it’s off to the next job. Let’s face it, it’s not the most glamorous in the world and it’s certainly not the highest paying. Many of them have a second occupation and they are most likely the ones cooking and cleaning at home. It’s a thankless job and it would’ve been so easy for the staff at 8th Street Middle School to mail it in and be crabby, thinking about what they could’ve been doing had they not been at work. But, not today. Not these lunch ladies!
Remember to tell your lunch staff thanks for the delicious food they prepare and all the hard work they do for you each day. Trust me, they will appreciate it more than you know!
A brief history of a continuing school tradition in America
In 1909 in Ventura, Calif., teacher Zilda M. Rogers wrote to the Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of California, Berkeley, then a primary proponent and provider of garden education resources for schoolteachers. “With the love of the school garden has grown the desire for a home garden and some of their plots at home are very good…Since commencing the garden work the children have become better companions and friends…and to feel that there is a right way of doing everything…it is our garden…We try to carry that spirit into our schoolroom.”
School gardens have been around in Europe with the earliest records dated to 1811. It wasn’t until recently that their nationwide resurgence in the U.S. has become much more prevalent. My good friend and kitchen manager of Baker Place Elementary in Columbia County Georgia, took it upon herself to get her students involved. She is loved by everyone at that school. I stopped by to see her shortly after she started this colorful start to her garden.
There is so much kids can learn from school gardens. From proper clothing to harvesting and finally being able to taste what they grew on their own school lunch lines!
One of my favorite blogs, “Ideas in Food,” created by Alex Talbot and Aki Kamozowa is about allowing your imagination to look at new and creative ways of using food. But they never fail to look at what is obvious. Their daughter Amaya has been growing food with her friends at school.
Look at these lovely lettuces she was able to bring home and show to Mom and Dad.
The Florida School Nutrition State Conference in Daytona Beach
I know, I know- a little bit much to start with. That’s me and my pal, Mike Burke. Mike and I are two of the very few fortunate people who are in the food service equipment industry that work as ambassadors to School Nutrition. Actually, he’s an ambassador; my title is “Guru.” So a little much is sometimes what we’re about. We’ve taken photos in this pose all over the country, but this one by far was the most “colorful!”
We were standing at the entrance of the main event at the Florida School Nutrition Conference in Daytona Beach. And it was fun and LOUD! We were all instructed to wear bright colors in order to pick up the dozens of black lights that surrounded the room.
It was awesome to watch. This conference, titled Runnin’ Down a Dream, is not only the name of Gainesville, Florida native Tom Petty’s tune, but it was Florida School Nutrition President Lori Drenth’s mantra for her year as chief.
See, Lori had a goal of upping the membership in the state of Florida. She will tell you herself the membership numbers in Georgia have haunted her. She swore at the beginning of her tenure that she was coming after Georgia and she did! Georgia boasts the best membership numbers in the U.S., but this year Lori’s hard work paid off. Florida has the distinction of being the fastest growing school nutrition membership in America.
Lori’s determination didn’t stop there. She was one of 50 school districts to apply for the Winston School Nutrition Grant. Ten pieces of equipment were selected to go to the winning district and Lori’s district, Hernando County was chosen. Talk about good fortune. I asked her to buy me some lottery tickets!
There have been some historic Florida Association State Presidents in the last few years that have dealt with really important issues from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, children and family food insecurity, community eligibility and so much more. These two were among the best, Ida Daniels of Hamilton County Schools up in the panhandle and Donna Wolter of Osceola County Schools, south of Orlando.
I go to a lot of state school nutrition conferences and they are all great in their own way. Florida of course is Florida. And there’s just something about having to work at the beach that is pretty special!
The Georgia School Nutrition State Conference in Savannah
And while it was great opening conversation, it was the conversation at the conference that really showed off what Georgia School Nutrition has to offer.
GSNA boasts the largest membership in the U.S. and there’s good reason why.
Here’s a term you may not have heard of: School District Owned Memberships otherwise known as SDMs. These are memberships that school districts can keep even if a member leaves or retires from the district. Then that membership can be transferred. This is a money-saving way of getting more school nutrition personnel to get involved with the program without another startup cost.
The total number of SDMs for March of 2016 was almost 30,000 strong. And since SDMs currently account for 50% of the total national School Nutrition Association membership, you can see how a program like this positively impacts the numbers. All state associations are now participating in SDM. Take a look at who’s on top!
I, for one, am very proud of Georgia’s membership accomplishments. I served as the Master of Ceremonies at this event and didn’t hesitate to remind them that they are #1!
This year’s festivities included a visit and performance from the one and only Paula Deen. She told the story of how hard she worked to overcome the obstacles in her life to become the owner of Lady and Sons restaurant, an author and TV personality.
Kern Halls, proprietor of Ingenious Culinary, a one stop consultancy for the purpose of consistently successful school food service operations, engaged the audience with concepts that enlightened and energized the crowd.
The conference for 2016 was titled “Aiming High in The Low Country” and it was GSNA State President Vanessa Hayes’ mantra for the year. Vanessa is one of the most dynamic people you’ll ever meet. Truly a gifted speaker/motivator and awesome director of the Tift County Schools, Georgia Program. Here, she’s pictured with the legendary Josephine Martin a resident of Georgia who is the living history of modern school nutrition.
These are just some highlights of this event, but believe me; it was educational, informational, engaging, absorbing, and entertaining. Honestly, words don’t do it justice. Check out this shot of the last evening titled, “Throw down in the Lowdown.” A huge seafood boil served buffet style right on the Hutchinson Island side of the river.
Working with State and National School Nutrition Associations
The School Nutrition State Conference schedule started in March. Alabama and Oregon were the first to kick off their events from March 11-12. I’m fortunate enough to serve on both the Executive Board and the Exhibit or Expo Board in Alabama as an Industry member. I also serve as the Industry representative to the Membership committee for the School Nutrition National Association. That’s why I’m very proud of the work Alabama has accomplished in recent years. Alabama’s School Nutrition membership has had steady growth for the last four years. I’ve actually witnessed the sheer amount of people that now attend the Conference and Expo compared to 2012.
With every State Conference and Exhibit it’s all about support. All of the State Associations run with varying degrees of staff and help depending on the support they get. One major factor is industry support. These are the companies that buy space at annual exhibits to show food products, kitchen equipment, software and other technology that could easily help each kitchen run more efficiently.
As each vendor gets ready to load in, the first day looked like this:
But in just a few hours it looked like this:
Some states have two-day shows with selected hours on the floor of the exhibition that are designated strictly for purchasers. Alabama had a one-day show this year. Typically, each state tries to mix things up to get the best out of what is likely their biggest support event of the year.
Most of the time the conference eclipses with an awards banquet. This year it was exceptional…particularly for me.
I work with a School Nutrition Foundation committee assigned to interviewing School Nutrition Heroes. These are people who not only perform in their jobs, but actually work in the program. They go above and beyond, sometimes with difficult odds and outcomes to help super serve their communities. These people are honored each year along with a new group of five at School Nutrition’s Legislative Action Conference in Washington, D.C.
Alabama is one of only two states that has two heroes. 2013’s Karen Watson from Sylacauga City Schools (left) and 2016’s Samantha Ingram from Geneva County Schools (right).
No doubt I have gotten as much from the experience as they have, just by knowing them and seeing the things they’ve accomplished. This photo was taken less than two weeks after Samantha was honored in DC at the Alabama SNA awards banquet. It really is all about support. The membership, the State Association, the Vendors, Superintendents, Principals, PTA, and on and on. A lot of effort from a lot of different places. But I can tell you, in my experience, the reward is awesome.