Food service director leads by loading students up with nutritious foods

Crew has stepped up to make sure families are eating well during school closure

Many changes were made in food service during the COVID 19 pandemic (courtesy)

Beth Ohman and her crew of food service workers were eager to add fresh produce– apples, carrots, onions, celery, strawberries– to their nutritious offerings for Kent City students.

The district received a shipment of fruits and veggies from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in mid May to give away along with the bags of food being given to families while school is closed due to the pandemic. Ohman and her small staff handed out bagged breakfast, lunch and snack bags, and they loaded 20 – 25 pound boxes of fresh produce into vehicles lined up in front of the Kent City Elementary building.

Breaking down boxes comes right after packing the approximately 2,100 lunches every Monday, Wednesday and Friday (courtesy)

“We served over 2,700 meals in two hours,” said Ohman, who has worked in the district for 21 years and as food service director since 2011. “That is our highest count for meals served this year.” A day earlier, Ohman announced via social media and the school website that USDA produce boxes were available.

Since the state-mandated school closure, Kent City joined other districts in continuing food service for area children. Each Monday, Wednesday and Friday, families pick up prepared meals for their children without exiting their vehicles. 

Ohman credits her staff for getting the job done. “All the credit goes to my team, they really step up for whatever we need,” she said.

Ongoing challenges

Since schools closed, the food service staff has faced a number of challenges. “It is quite a job trying to keep the meals interesting for the kids and stay on budget,” said Ohman.

Kent City Food Service Director Beth Ohman has been serving the community for 21 years (courtesy)

The usual favorites recipes enjoyed by students and teachers in the cafeteria had to be replaced with to-go options.

High School Vice Principal Jason Vogel, for one, misses the cooking in the cafeteria on a regular school day.. He  highlighted Ohman in the district news as someone who “flies under the radar” but is a constant in Kent City.. Vogel named favorites like fried and cherry blossom chicken; build your own burger and chili dog day, and The Eagle bowl, which is Kent City’s version of a Qdoba bowl.  

“It includes pulled pork or chicken, rice, pico de gallo, guacamole, sour cream salsa, a liquid cheese, and best of all — jalapenos . . . freshly cut jalapenos,” said Vogel. “It brings me to tears just thinking about it. Oh, how I long for school to be back in session!”

In addition to keeping meals on budget and interesting, Ohman said  it can be a struggle to find all the products she needs. “This week I had to order paper bags out of Kalamazoo,” she said.

USDA produce boxes were added to lunches provided for community during school shutdown

“Processing to-go meals has also been hard,” she said. “It is difficult to prepare so many meals so quickly.” To start distributing by 9 a.m., the small staff has to prepare approximately 2,200 “just in case,” she said.

Food preparation is followed by a  “mountain of boxes to tear down for recycling, but the staff knows what to do and soon as we are done packing, they step up and get the job done,” she said.

There is still some uncertainty about what will come next when it comes to food service in the summer and next school year, but, whatever happens, Ohman is getting ready for it.

“We usually feed kids all summer, but then it is every day and inside, so we aren’t sure what this will look like in June,” she said.  Kent City also is host to a regional migrant summer school program, which may pose additional challenges this year. If the teaching moves to the migrant camps, food service may include more take out.

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Janice Holst
Janice Holst has been both a teacher and a journalist. A former MLive reporter, she wrote features and covered local government and schools for Advance Newspapers for nearly two decades. She also was a recipe columnist and wrote features for Mature Life Style and occasional entertainment pieces for On The Town magazines. She lives in Sparta Township and is thrilled to spend some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts. Read Janice's full bio or email Janice.

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