Rebuilding After a Tornado

In “When You Least Expect It” in the November 2016 issue of School Nutrition, Susan Davis Gryder explores how three school nutrition directors and their teams worked to feed students in the wake of recent disasters that affected their communities. An additional story about rising above the damage of a natural disaster is included here as an online exclusive.

Tippecanoe School Corporation covers over 400 square miles in Lafayette, Indiana, serving 13,000 students in 20 schools in the northeastern part of the state. Although it’s geographically spread out, people came together in November 2014, when a powerful tornado damaged an elementary school and a middle school.

“Thank goodness this was a Sunday. Both schools were completely unusable,” says Director of Nutrition Services Lori Shofroth. “We had heard there had been a tornado in that area, and then an all-bulletin went out to district administrators that two schools had been hit. We couldn’t get to the schools to see the damage because of downed power lines, emergency crews, etc.”

Shofroth says although the schools as a whole were rendered unusable, her kitchens themselves weren’t touched. Nevertheless, important equipment like compressors for her walk-ins and a roof-mounted air hood were damaged.

The first order of business was to get kids fed. “Our staff didn’t miss a beat,” she recalls. “On Monday morning they were serving breakfast. The elementary schoolers were relocated to a local church, and we worked out of the kitchens of a nearby school. We started off with basic grab ‘n’ go breakfast and lunch, and in a couple of months we were providing hot lunch. The middle schoolers were sent to another middle school.” Despite some unanticipated challenges like transporting hot boxes through the snow and finding additional cold storage for the temporary elementary school, Shofroth says the staff remained flexible and positive.

Although the initial damage to foodservice wasn’t severe, the long wait before the schools were rebuilt wreaked its own havoc: “Most of the equipment wouldn’t start up after sitting for almost two years, or was damaged when it was moved out for the construction. When it came back, it wouldn’t work.” Fortunately, Shofroth’s budget wasn’t blown, because she had already allowed for replacement costs in her budget. “The schools were due for new equipment because they hadn’t been updated in many years,” she explains. Shofroth did receive some money through an insurance claim, and credits the fact that she had a detailed inventory for both schools, including small wares.

When the schools finally opened, says Shofroth, her cafeteria managers wore ruby slippers! The child nutrition staff had learned, first hand, that there’s no place like home.

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