FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Inside the Fort Wayne Community Schools Nutrition Processing Center, 55 people work hard every day to feed education.
“You feel like you’re doing a purpose. You feel like you’re helping the community,” Alicia Jenks said.
Jenks has been working at the nutrition center for 13 years. To say she talks about her job with passion, is an understatement.
“I love it here. It’s fun. Every day is an adventure,” she enthusiastically said through a giant grin. “If you like to be fast-paced and serve kids and serve the community, it’s a good job for you.”
Every day during the school year, the nutrition center prepares 13,000 lunches and around 13,000 breakfasts for the 32 FWCS elementary schools. It also sends breakfasts to FWCS’s eleven middle schools. The center makes an average of 70 meals a minute.
“It’s a little organized chaos every day,” Becky Larson, the FWCS Director of Nutrition Services, said. “We know if those kids aren’t eating breakfast, they’re ending up in the nurse’s office and we want to contribute to the health of the students.”
Larson and her team are excited for school to be back in session.
“Typical jitters, but we’re hopeful everything will go smoothly. We’re looking forward to feeding our students,” she said.
New this school year is expanded lunch options for elementary students. Now, there will be two choices every day – one of which is vegetarian.
“In the past, it was one entrée and they could order vegetarian, but they had to request it. We wanted to give kids a choice like other districts and now it’s offered every day without requesting it,” Larson said. “We’re really excited to offer that.”
Some new menu items this year include a taco pizza and a vegetarian pizza.
Across the district, 255 people work in the nutrition services department. The schools will do some baking and make hot food like casseroles and things that don’t package well. But, not every school has a kitchen, which is why the nutrition processing center – and the dining dance that starts and ends with delivery drivers – is so important.
“Most often, we’re packing a day ahead and drivers come in at midnight or two a.m. and then have it to the school and ready to go. Breakfast we package a day before,” Larson said.
Last year many districts had to battle supply issues and many menu items not being available.
“I want to say it’s better, but it’s not. We’re still getting notifications every day from our vendors that we’re out of this or that,” Larson said. “We always have a back-up plan and we can make it happen. It’s just not ideal or we’ll switch it out. For example, maybe no chicken sandwich today, we’ll do it next week when we can get it.”
The Nutrition Processing Center just expanded its storage areas, which will help off-set supply chain issues. It added 2,000 square feet of dry storage and 3,000 square feet of freezer space.
“We’re packed to the gills and that will give us flexibility when we can’t get orders in,” Larson said.
Four dietitians make the menus to meet nutrition guidelines and have variety. While the kids are still, well, kids…
“They ask for no more carrots. They want more cookies and cakes,” Jenks laughed.
… filling their bellies and fueling their brains, is fulfilling work.
“I know all my staff have a lot of pride in their work and I’m grateful for that,” Larson said.