Waste Not, Want Not

In the September 2012 issue of School Nutrition, Patricia L. Fitzgerald, Arianne Corbett, RD, and Cecily Walters shared the stories of school nutrition professionals who found themselves eye to eye with challenges presented during some recent natural disasters. Read on for some additional accounts that help to demonstrate just how well the school community rises and shines when the weather rages and destruction reigns.

“I was completely tormented that my kids didn’t have meals.”

If schools are closed and/or the power is out for an extended time, school nutrition operators are likely to have some extra food on their hands—even with rented refrigerated trailers and generators on hand. Rather than let it spoil and consign it to the landfill, some child nutrition teams have banded together—despite all the other crisis management tasks they must manage—to ensure that the food gets somewhere that it can be used.

When the North American Blizzard of 2009 struck less than a week before Christmas, Arlington County (Va.) Public Schools Foodservice Director Amy Maclosky questioned what to do with some 300 whole turkeys that had been thawed for a special holiday meal prior to the break. “We didn’t have a plan for thawed food,” she notes. After a few calls, Maclosky connected with a local shelter, who came to her schools to take the turkeys off her hands. “We ended up providing them with a really nice Christmas dinner,” she recounts. “It benefitted the community instead of us just taking the loss. That was kind of a godsend.”

In neighboring Montgomery County, Md., Child Nutrition Services Director Marla Caplon is chair of the local food bank, which was fully stocked, but out of power during the next set of blizzards to hit the area the following February. Schools were closed, “And I was completely tormented that my kids didn’t have meals,” she reflects. She arranged to load two “huge” food trucks with goods from the food bank and set them up at two school parking lots at different ends of the county. A special request was made to the county department of transportation to prioritize the plowing of both parking lots, as well as the roads leading to the schools. They used the district’s automated phone notification system to let families know that the food trucks would be available.

“When people would arrive, we gave them a bag, and they basically could go grocery shopping—in the truck. We had bread, cereal, ground beef, dry beans, canned goods, etc. We let people fill their bags, and if they had a child with them, we gave them a bag, too,” Caplon explains. “There were people who would say, ‘We haven’t had food all day.’” The impromptu project was so successful, the district has added it to its emergency plan for the future. “Honestly, it was the efforts of a village. It was us, the food bank, the school administrators and the county government. It worked; it absolutely worked.”

Similarly, when area schools were closed after the Virginia earthquake, Louisa County’s school nutrition team found a way to get food back to needy kids: by donating 10,000 to 12,000 cartons of milk, produce and other perishable foods to a local food bank. “The community pantry went through it all in about a day and a half,” reports Director Randy Herman.

While it’s not uncommon for schools to be used to shelter displaced residents, in Schoharie, N.Y., one of the elementary schools was used to shelter first responders. “The firehouse in the village was flooded, so they began operating out of the school,” explains School Foodservice Manager Josie Ennist, SNS. She, her school nutrition team and other volunteers provided them with breakfast, lunch and dinner for nine days. “The people who volunteered were incredible. We had so many donations that the school became a food pantry,” she recounts. Volunteers started at 6 a.m. and many stayed until at least 8 or 9 p.m.

When the Waldo Canyon Fire swept through the outskirts of Colorado Springs in late June 2012, schools in the Academy 20 school district had already closed. The timing was very fortunate for the staff and students at six sites that were in evacuation zones. “Had school been open, it would have been really different,” says Child Nutrition Director Monica Kjosen, counting her blessings that neither she nor any of her foodservice staff suffered personal losses in the worst wildfire in the state’s history. “People were evacuating with embers falling around them.” But the crisis did prove memorable in its community building.

One prestigious neighbor is the U.S. Airforce Academy, which was partially evacuated at the height of the fires. The director of cadet resident dining reached out to Kjosen to make provisions for using her high school facility to feed incoming cadets, should the fire reach Academy grounds. While the evacuation was lifted before new cadets arrived on campus, “It was a nice joint effort, an example of people coming together in need,” recounts Kjosen. And on another occasion, she helped to make connections for the safe delivery and storage of several pallets of frozen beef donated to feed firefighters.

In neighboring district Colorado Springs 11, Executive Chef Brian Axworthy also is grateful that his team wasn’t pressed into greater service during the Waldo Canyon Fire. They’d offered assistance to the Red Cross, which didn’t require their kitchens. One of the district’s secondary school kitchen managers was called into action to help run a foodservice operation, and was able to apply his knowledge and training to provide healthy scratch meals to community members staying at a relief center. “He did a fantastic job representing himself, as well as our foodservice program,” credits Axworthy. “We’re very pleased with his performance and willingness to help others in this time of need.”

April Carlson is a testament to the individual generosity of those who work in the school nutrition profession. A manager in the Minot (N.D.) Public Schools system, Carlson was fortunate to not be directly affected by a once-in-a-century flood that devastated the community back in Spring 2011. More than a year later, “I still have my friends’ furniture everywhere: in my living room, my garage, my basement—even a big horse trailer outside my house. My house didn’t flood, so that’s what you do. God gave me this home to help people, and that’s what I’m doing.”

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