Since 2008, the Newman-Crows Landing (Calif.) Unified School District (NCLUSD) has been home to the McConnell Adult Education Center. And just recently, the district’s foodservice team has taken over feeding the seniors through a grant program at the location.
“We felt we could provide a better experience” to the meal component of the senior program, which is under the Congregate Meal Program, administered by the Stanislaus County Agency on Aging, says Caralyn Mendoza, chief business official with NCLUSD, who oversees the nutrition services department.
According to local newspaper editor Dean Harris of The West Side Index, the new dining setup is beneficial to the seniors in this tightly knit community, body and soul.
“The seniors gave high marks to the food program, which is now operated by NCLUSD nutrition services department,” Harris writes. “I have to say that my school lunches never looked as good as what they were serving…I really also enjoyed the social aspect of the gatherings.”
Harris noted that coffee is out when the room opens at 10 a.m., “and folks are welcome to come and visit and play cards while they wait for the 11 a.m. lunch. That’s a hugely important component, as is providing seniors with access to sound nutrition.”
The school foodservice department had to wait for a grant cycle to come up in order to apply, and at first, the application wasn’t approved by the county, citing not enough resources. The district serves about 4,100 meals per day to students, including a second-chance breakfast and a weekend wellness program, and Mendoza insisted that the resources to feed seniors were there, too.
“It’s a natural extension of what we already do. Part of the reason we could do this program is because we have enough production staff and a person who can monitor when they are here already on staff,” Mendoza says. “It isn’t a huge stretch to add 15 to 20 meals a day to what we are already doing.”
Met with resistance, “we asked our county supervisor to intervene on our behalf,” Mendoza says. “They wanted to award the contract to a group to come from over 30 miles away, to be pre-packaged and reheated.”
The district’s solution was to do bulk meals, Mendoza says. “We plate them onsite as they come in.” Plus, “our facility is our elementary school across the parking lot.”
The proximity and the district’s commitment to chasing down the grant led to the application’s approval, and the program to feed seniors officially launched in July. Already, “the feedback has been tremendous,” Mendoza says. “They are happy with the food choices, the available fresh fruit and the décor.”
The funding for the program is a little different from NSLP, Mendoza explains, in that the county applies for funding for the entire county, and funds are allocated based on past participation. The reimbursement rate is $5.50 per meal, and there is a $3 suggested donation per meal.
“We’re funded for 17 meals per day on average,” Mendoza says. “Our first day we did 19, although Tuesdays and Thursdays are lower because there’s no exercise class.” Still, on days that had been averaging just five meals are now up to 10.
To increase participation further, the district recently hosted a senior awareness event, with a lunch preview for about 100 seniors. Menus are printed in the weekly paper and alerts are going out in church bulletins.
“For this program, it’s not only about the food,” Mendoza says. “It’s about the social experience that goes with it. We wanted to create a space where they felt welcome and looked forward to it.”