It’s time-consuming to prepare about 600 kids’ lunches a week, but Denise Jorgenson and Susan Lenox have it down to a science.
The trickiest part? Timing, especially for pizza, corn dogs and other hot lunch items.
“You don’t want to cook it too soon,” Lenox said. “You don’t want to have it in the warmer forever.”
The duo prepare hot and cold lunches every morning in the kitchen at Garfield Elementary School in Olympia for the summer feeding program that’s sponsored by the city of Olympia. It’s one of more than a dozen sites in Thurston County that are offering free lunches (and sometimes snacks) this summer to anyone 18 and younger.
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The programs are in neighborhoods with high percentages of children who participate in the federal free- and reduced-price lunch program during the school year. Several are associated with day camps and summer playground programs, and most are supported by the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program.
However, children don’t need to participate in a camp or program to receive a meal; they can simply show up and they’ll be served. There’s no proof of residency or income required. Even toddlers and preschoolers can receive meals.
“The goal is to serve as many lunches in the neediest parts,” said Luke Burns, a recreation program specialist with the city of Olympia.
Garfield is one of the sites that serves daily hot lunches. The city sponsors the summer feeding program but contracts with the Olympia School District to prepare the meals.
Menu items are designed to cover all of the nutrition standards required by the USDA, such as 2 ounces of protein and three-quarters of a cup of vegetables, Lenox said.
“Everything is portioned out exactly to what we’re going to serve,” she said.
On Wednesday, the Garfield program served pizza, peaches, milk and salad with vegetables harvested from a local school garden.
“We try to keep everything as local as we can,” said Lenox, who has worked for the school district’s food service program for 25 years and is its purchasing coordinator.
The cold lunches they prepared for delivery to the Madison Elementary School lunch site included turkey-and-cheese sandwiches, milk, mini-cut carrots, a whole sliced orange, animal crackers, and packets of mustard and mayonnaise.
Lenox and Jorgenson begin preparing meals and snacks for the Garfield and Madison sites at 9 a.m., and are cleaned up for the day by 12:30 p.m.
“I like my hours; I like working around kids,” said Jorgenson, who is the lead manager for the food service program at Olympia’s Washington Middle School. “It’s a good job.”
Just like during the regular school year, the most popular menu items in the summer lunch program are pizza, burgers and French fries, and chicken nuggets. The most unpopular item? Tuna sandwiches.
“They’re a fast-food generation,” Jorgenson said.