, Muskogee, OK

Local News

July 7, 2012

School lunches end

Meal assistance to restart with school year

— Bus driver Nate Stanford makes sure he gives each kid stopping by the “Cruisin’ Cafe” a sack lunch and a smile.

“We’re making sure the kids get something good to eat during the summer,” Stanford said as kids filed in and out of the customized school bus, parked at Spaulding Park. The bus comes to Spaulding and Robison parks nearly every day this summer as part of Muskogee Public Schools’ summer food service program

The summer lunch program ends at the Cruisin’ Cafe and seven other sites on Thursday. The federally-funded program is administered through the Oklahoma Department of Education.

“The program ends July 12 to allow staff a break and time to begin preparing their sites for the coming school year,” said Melony Carey, MPS public information director.

This leaves a break of slightly less than six weeks before Muskogee Public Schools starts on Aug. 22. In addition to the Cruisin’ Cafe, lunches are served at Whispering Pines, Port City Acres and Green Country Village; St. Joseph Catholic School; the Project Transformation program at St. Paul United Methodist Church, Students Taking a New Direction program at Faith Deliverance Center and the MPS Summer Pride at Alice Robertson Junior High.

MPS Child Nutrition Director Jaime M. Speligene said Muskogee’s 2012-2013 school calendar had not been approved when she had to submit her application for the state program.

“So, I was uncertain of the start of the school year when I completed the application process for the summer food service program,” Speligene said. “I just followed the same time frame to which we have served meals in the past summers.”

The district’s 2011 summer feeding program ended July 14. The 2011 school year started Aug. 11, four weeks later.

Donnie Pierce, who was taking his niece and nephew to the Cruisin’ Cafe last week, said the family, who is on food stamps, will have to make lunches for the kids for the rest of the summer.

Lisa Lord said the food program lunches “are healthier than what I can get them to eat at home.”

“Here they get a variety of foods,” Lord said. “There, at home, it’s sandwiches.”

On Tuesday, when Lord and Pierce brought the kids to the bus, the kids got a covered bowl of chicken Alfredo, green beans and mandarin oranges.

“The last time we were here, we had the best lunch ever,” Ben Franklin Science Academy student Autumn Smith said as she  inspected her lunch.

Stanford told kids to come back Thursday “when we’ll have barbecue sandwiches.”

Stanford said the Cruisin’ Cafe serves about 110 kids a day when it visits the two parks. The program was not available on Fridays.

The summer food program fed an average of 450 kids a day in June, Speligene said. “The number of children we feed depends on the number of participating sites.”

The summer lunch program ended earlier this summer at three sites, including Camp Bennett and Muskogee’s summer school program.

The program is for any child, 18 or younger, Speligene said. They do not have to be a Muskogee Public School student or live in Muskogee County. Muskogee Public Schools is reimbursed $3.38 for each lunch served to children, she said.

Speligene said Muskogee’s Child Nutrition Services program does need time to prepare for each school year.

“The administrative process is a little more complicated than the site process for the beginning of school,” she said in an email response. “Here in the main warehouse, we put out bids for all our major products and services. This includes all food items, dairy, bread, produce, small equipment, large equipment, uniform, shoes, paper products, school paper, exhaust/vent hood cleaning services, chemical services and linen services.”

She said the staff also must prepare menus according to regulations and nutritional requirements and according to the best bid pricing the department received.

“We complete an inventory in the main warehouse, reorganize products for the new year and make room to receive new products,” Speligene said. The department handbook and manager handbooks are updated. Financial reports and budgets are reviewed. Reassignments and hiring of new employees for the upcoming year are also completed before the July Muskogee Board of Education Meeting (July 17). The Child Nutrition section of the Muskogee Public Schools website will also be updated. All correspondence for free/reduced meals and the application is updated to reflect the current income guidelines and any other necessary changes.”

Child Nutrition Service employees also must go through professional development because of new regulations, she said.

“We want to make sure we have a thorough understanding of the changes so we comply with all the new regulations,” she said. “Then, staff will come back about one week before school starts to receive groceries, re-clean the kitchens and get set up for the new school year.”

Kelly McEachron, site director at Port City Acres, said about 12 kids a day have come to the summer lunch program. She said that in the past, it got busy during the program’s last few weeks.

Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or cspaulding

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