School meals program at work in overtaxed facilities
January 10, 2019
Editor's note: The ending of a story about Wahkiakum School District kitchen facilities was inadvertently omitted in last week's edition. The first part of the story described the facility's limited storage space. The rest of the story, published below, describes the facility's impact on the school district's meals program. The complete story was published on The Eagle's website, waheagle.com.
By Diana Zimmerman
What does a lack of storage space mean? More frequent deliveries at greater cost to the district.
“We get three to four deliveries a week,” Michelle Wisner said. Wisner works full time in the kitchen. “We could cut our cost down with proper storage.”
Superintendent Brent Freeman said that with a reduced budget at the district this year, they’ve had to make some cutbacks, but they didn’t touch food services.
“We didn’t want to put less of a product on the table,” he said. “There is just not extra in what they do.”
Following deliveries, staff must turn their focus to putting the food away. It takes up a lot of their time, and takes away from other duties.
“Menus are planned accordingly,” Wisner said. “A couple months ago I had Food Services Director Krista Fritzie adjust our menu because we had breakfast for lunch on the day commodities were delivered. It takes Courtney (Helms) and I both to serve, because so much goes on the plate. We had to serve hot ham and cheese so Courtney could serve by herself and I could put frozen food away before it thawed.”
Anecdotes like that one have Freeman comparing their work to a military operation.
But it’s also watching the transitions at the grade school.
There are purpose built cafeterias in other schools, according to Freeman. Not here.
A member of the custodial crew and para-educators come in every day to set up tables in the multi-purpose room for breakfast, and take them back down when the meal is over in order to turn the room back into a classroom. They do it all over again for lunch.
“Their logistical excellence makes this work,” Freeman said of everyone involved in getting meals ready for students.
A fresh burrito bar has more students staying in for lunch at the high school. The 1,400 square foot lunch room, an addition in the 1980s, seats a little less than a third of the high school population. On cold and rainy days, students eat in the hallways, in classrooms, in the library, and the gym.
“There is a lot of wear and tear on building and the custodial staff who have to keep it clean,” Freeman said.
For now, they take really good care of the equipment and facilities they have. They don’t know how long any of it will have to last.
“We’ve got older facilities that really do need some attention,” Freeman said. “Our infrastructure does not support the equipment required due to regulations in a modern kitchen. When you’ve got 60 year old facilities, you’ve got to make hard, conscious decisions about whether to maintain, update, or build new.”
“This building was built before there was a man on the moon, before there was a concept of a computer, a laptop, wi-fi,” Freeman said. “The facilities are an equity issue. I don’t think going into the future, this is what we should expect for our kids. They should get the same advantages as every kid in the state.”