Orfalea Foundation School Food Initiative Director Kathleen de Chadenèdes opened the third panel of the School Wellness Summit by sharing the primary objection she hears when promoting innovative ideas in school health and wellness: “Where are we going to get the money?”
Fortunately, our panelists were able to share some answers to that question.
Kim Greer, Chief Business Official of the Guadalupe Union School District, focused on the effect of Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC). She first became interested in the program because she saw the financial opportunity, and her interest accelerated when Sal Reynoso became Principal at Kermit McKenzie Junior High. “Honestly, we first took a look at offering Breakfast in the Classroom because we heard that it improves attendance. But upon further research, we found that it also improves student achievement, behavior, and the bottom line.” They implemented the program, and the results have been impressive.
Before BIC, the schools in Guadalupe offered breakfast in the cafeteria, which required students to arrive early and choose, on their own, to go to the cafeteria rather than the playground. Participation hovered around 40%. Since the implementation of BIC, participation is 93% at the elementary school and 88% at the junior high. The food costs are subsidized by the federal government, so more participation brings in more dollars. But breakfast participation isn’t the only financial benefit of BIC, because overall attendance also improved, and that too increases revenue for the schools.
As Chief Business Official, Greer has seen the financial benefits of the district’s investments in health and wellness, which include BIC, scratch-cooking, switching from disposable to durable trays and utensils, school gardens, and installation of Hydration Stations. All of these improvements cost money, but pay for themselves by making campus food service more attractive to students and staff, thus increasing participation, both paid and subsidized. And because of the district’s move toward healthy, scratch-cooked foods, these investments have been a win-win-win for schools, families, and local businesses (Editor’s note: except for the junk-food merchants, but we lack sympathy for them).
Santa Barbara Unified School District Food Services Director Nancy Weiss reminds us that increased revenue is not an end in itself, and points out that increasing revenues empowers her to improve the quality of food she serves, both through procurement of better ingredients and professional development of her staff.
Weiss’s energy, creativity, and business experience show in her approach to solving problems. For example, she noticed that high school students leave campus in large numbers to eat fast food – or convenience store junk food – at lunch time. Understanding their reluctance to eat in the cafeteria (they are high school students, after all), but wanting to ensure they had access to nutritious, scratch-cooked food, Weiss launched the district’s Mobile Café, a food truck that shows up at lunch time and serves about two hundred students. They get to stay on campus and eat real food. Of course, it’s the same food they could get in the cafeteria, but as any marketing expert will tell you, the trick is to get the product to where the customer wants to be.
In addition to increased revenues through BIC, Mobile Cafes, Supper Program, Summer Food Service Program, Afterschool Snack Program, and vending to other districts, Weiss also runs a catering program that generates revenues while promoting the high quality of her team’s food to the community. “The bottom line is always the same: Feed as many students and staff the most nutritious and delicious meals possible while using federal subsidies to offset food costs. Our other main objective is to remain profitable, enabling us to purchase better quality food while keeping our staff gainfully employed twelve months per year.” Like we said, “energy, creativity, and business experience.” It’s a powerful combination also found in our next panelist.
We asked Golden Carrot honoree Bethany Markee, Director of Food Service for Solvang School District, how she increased paid participation at her school, which has a lower (but sadly growing) percentage of “free and reduced” eligible kids. (Editor’s note: “Free and reduced” refers to the government’s reimbursement standards for families at various poverty levels. Students are eligible for either free or reduced price meals based on family income. Many people think of Santa Barbara as an affluent community, and do not understand that over one-quarter of Santa Barbara County’s children live in poverty).
“I was a professional chef in restaurants for 28 years. I was watching and learning what children were eating and the overall health of our children. I could clearly see it was not good, so I consciously decided to become part of the solution and work in school food.” – Bethany Markee
Like Weiss, Markee is a professional chef with a mind for business, and has been creative in her approach to serving students. For example, finding herself in a kitchen designed to serve 150 students but now serving up to 600, she created items like “Grab and Go” lunches, so students could get a nutritiously balanced meal but not lose their eating time while waiting in line. She has also found success catering classroom pizza parties and vending lunches to the nearby Buellton School District. To encourage adult participation, “an upscale menu is available daily for staff that features local farmers’ market foods. These are small ways to add REAL money to your school foods program.”
Attendees at the Summit were wowed by Markee’s relationship with Veggie Rescue, a non-profit gleaning operation that recovers unpicked produce from local farms and donates it to schools, senior centers, and other beneficiaries. Markee estimates that Veggie Rescue has saved her program over $50,000 in just under three years. How does this increase paid participation? Markee says this allowed her to add staff so she could devote more time to management and marketing, which enabled her team to pursue the “Grab and Go,” catering, and vending opportunities.
Kathleen de Chadenèdes closed the panel with some words of advice for those seeking grants from the government or private foundations. Among her recommendations:
- Grant applications and reporting requirements can be very time and resource consuming, so make sure it’s worth the effort.
- Ensure strong overlap of mission with the grantor or you are inviting conflict later. And for heaven’s sake, don’t pretend there is common purpose if there is not.
- Don’t pander to a grantor – we already know what our website says.
- Prepare and maintain boilerplate materials so you are ready for grant applications with narrow windows of response time.
- Think of the grantor as a problem-solving partner, not an adversary; be honest if things don’t go according to plan.
- Prepare for evaluation with clear goals and measurement criteria. Today’s donors, whether governments or private foundations, want to know what the investment accomplished.
Kathleen de Chadenèdes often promotes “bringing a private sector mentality to a public sector job.” As we hope you have seen in this series on the School Wellness Summit, many schools now bring a more businesslike attitude to their public role, and their energy, creativity and hard work are resulting in healthier, better educated citizens.
In the sixth and final installment of this series on the 2014 School Wellness Summit, we’ll hear excerpts from SBCEO Deputy Superintendent Susan Salcido’s closing remarks, and review feedback from attendee evaluations of the summit and recommendations for next year’s event.
Dean Zatkowsky is Communications Manager at the Orfalea Foundation.