What started as a one-time meal distribution has since grown into an effective ongoing partnership between Eat’n Park Hospitality Group, the PNC Foundation, and the United Way, with Eat ‘n Park’s Parkhurst Dining unit, which usually operates onsite dining services in businesses and colleges, offering the use of its culinary staff and kitchen facilities to create meals for K-12 students while schools were closed, as well as for other social service platforms serving adults and families.
It started when the PNC Foundation donated $1,000,000 to the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania to create the Students and Families Food Relief Fund, designed to support families struggling with food insecurity during the coronavirus pandemic.
With this funding, Parkhurst partnered to provide meals to school children and their families in five western Pennsylvania counties around Pittsburgh, as well as breakfasts, lunches and dinners to five county housing centers and multiple senior centers. The company so far has served over 300,000 meals and is contracted to continue through the end of the year, says Ken MacIntyre, vice president of corporate dining for Parkhurst. That extension through the end of the year includes school meal service even after schools begin fall classes, MacIntyre notes.
“We’ve been very consistent and have [delivered] quality from scratch,” he says. “United Way was impressed, the PNC Foundation was impressed, so we’ll continue through December 31st.”
Photo: Parkhurst Dining’s Linda Williams, Stephanie Knaus and Bill Jones were part of a team making 9,000 lunches for Pittsburgh Public School kids.
“We have a lot of people working from home, so we have the [corporate dining] facilities available, and our client partners are happy that the kitchens can be used to help communities in need,” MacIntyre explains. “It also keeps our people employed at a time when there’s so much unemployment.”
The child meals supplement school district summer meal programs “and in some cases, we ARE the lunch program,” MacIntyre says. “Usually, we just make their food and they’ll pick up and deliver to the different locations for distribution using volunteers.”
The meals for child feeding are basic, standard cold items for the most part, such as turkey sandwiches on whole grain buns with sides like chips or pretzels, vegetables such as carrot sticks and fruit such as sliced apples. Adult meals are re-heatable individual servings—there are no bulk items because of COVID-related cross-contamination concerns.
The COVID factor also means that production operations in the kitchens have had to be adjusted, MacIntyre adds, with team schedules staggered and production hours extended into the evening to prevent too many employees from being in the space at one time. Production protocols have also been altered so that people are not working close to each other as was typical before COVID hit.
While Parkhurst hasn’t had previous experience creating meals in the K-12 environment that conform to federal school meal requirements, it has had some experience with federally regulated meals as it has operated meal programs in onsite daycare centers for some of its business dining clients, MacIntyre says. “Also, a lot of our chefs have worked in the K-12 market before,” he notes, adding that conforming to government requirements was considered necessary from the start of Parkhurst’s involvement with the program.
“We really wanted to because we thought there might be an opportunity for one of these organizations to submit it for federal funding, and we didn’t want to be the reason they couldn’t do it,” he explains.