By: Liz Marino, Douglas County Sentinel 

The Douglas County School System’s School Nutrition has shown no signs of taking the summer off as it has continued to feed the community’s children at locations all across the county through its Seamless Summer Feeding Program.

The program began in 2007 and provides nutritious meals to children who may not otherwise have access to such meals, explains Douglas County School Nutrition Director Danielle Freeman.

“Douglas County has some hungry kids and we want to do our part to help them,” she said.

It was announced June 22 that the Seamless Summer Feeding Program has been extended, according to Freeman.

“We will be serving meals until July 27 at Douglas County High School and to the other sites we serve,” she said. “We will continue to serve Boys and Girls Club, Cornerstone Baptist Church, Golden United Methodist, Jessie Davis Park, Deer Lick Park, Playtime Daycare and all Douglas County athletic programs.”

Both breakfast and lunch are served Monday through Friday.

At Douglas County High School, the program has been feeding students at summer football practice, in the 21st Century program, ESOL and special education students, according to Freeman. She said that a couple of churches have been bringing children in summer day camp programs in for meals as well.

“Douglas County High School is the main hub,” she said. “We do satellite meals to Jessie Davis Park and some of the high schools for summer athletics and programs.”

Freeman lists Midway UMC, Cornerstone Baptist, Lithia Springs High School, Stewart Middle School cheerleading camp, the Boys & Girls Club, Golden Memorial UMC and Playtime day care center as among the sites that have received pickup or delivery services from the summer feeding program.

“We provide hot meals and servers at the Boys & Girls Club,” Freeman said, “and pickup of hot meals at Cornerstone Baptist. Cold meals/sack lunches are provided at other sites.”

As of June 19, the school nutrition program served 45,000 meals this summer to children under the age of 18 at no charge — which is about 3,000 meals per day.

Still, that is a far cry from the 17,000 meals that the school system’s nutrition program each day when school is in session — and Freeman would like to see those number grow higher.

“We had three percent growth this year, with the onset of lunches taken to Deer Lick and Jesse Davis Parks this summer,” she said. “The goal is to increase that number if possible.”

Freeman said she would like to add more hot meals at more locations, but they need more equipment to keep foods hot and for delivery. Ideally, she said would like for the program to have it own food truck or a bus.

“Hot foods at each stop,” she said. “I’d like to serve more of the population.”

One of the barriers to serving a greater child population lies in lack of transportation for many who might like to participate, she said.

“Transportation can be a factor,” Freeman said, “plus the fact that people think schools are off-limits in the summer. We try to put program near apartments, but it limits participation until we can park in the location and be more mobile and provide more food in the area.”

She added, “People are trusting us to be the program of choice. We still proof and bake rolls fresh for the kids. Nothing is done the day before to ensure freshness. If they are coming to get a meal, it is a meal they would want to eat.”

Changing school food perceptions

Freeman said there are definite school food distinctions from the two sides of the Mason-Dixon line — and some residents from the northern states aren’t used to the way southerners prepare their meals.

“In the Stouth, we are people who bake from scratch and make fresh foods,” she said. “When I grew up in Georgia, I grew up with everything made from scratch. We want to change the perception. Parents who are more used to more institutional type cafeterias have different perspectives.”

Freeman said if you go into the storeroom, you’ll see recognizable brands on the shelf.

There are no “mystery meats” here or products with questionable labeling.

“It is eating the same foods you’d get in the store,” Freeman said.

Introducing students to fresh vegetables is one way the school nutrition program is working to encourage good nutrition and a healthy diet. One way they are doing this is by encouraging more schools to have it own garden.

One of Douglas County’s most successful gardens is located at Dorsett Shoals Elementary School, said Freeman.

“We are working with the University of Georgia Extension Service to increase gardens at the schools,” she said.

This past November, the school nutrition program brought a chef on board — yes, a real chef — to work on recipes and improve the perception, quality and brand of the school meal program.

Chef Clarence Martin was hired during the previous school year as food service manager at Stewart Middle School and as the school system’s caterer. He specializes in desserts as a pastry chef and has worked for a number of prestigious companies in Atlanta.

Martin was trained at Le Cordon Bleu, the American Institute of Baking and Atlanta Area Tech, and took a culinary course at the University of Georiga.

The chef brings 24 years of cooking experience to the Douglas County School System. Martin worked in Fulton County for 10 years before retiring and doing extensive catering. He was the pastry chef at Clayton State College and University and worked for The Carter Center before coming to Douglas County.

Last week, Chef Martin prepared samples of new items to be considered for the 2018-2019 menu that were taste-tested and rated by participants in the Seamless Summer Feeding Program.

One of the new menu items tested was a flatbread pizza with a variety of toppings, which was given a thumb’s up by the lunch crowd.

New school nutrition programs for 2018-2019

The Douglas County Board of Education voted June 18 to approve two new school nutrition programs to begin this fall — the Provision II Breakfast Program and an Afterschool Supper Program.

According to Freeman, the Provision II Breakfast Program will be provided to six schools within the Douglas County School System which have performed below average on the College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) for at least two years.

“This is an opportunity to increase breakfast participation in school,” Freeman said. “Based on studies, students who eat breakfast score higher on test score and improve behavior and are able to concentrate better in the classroom.”

They will be piloting the program at five elementary schools and one middle school, she said, for at least two years and at no cost to the students.

The program stipulates that students will be able to eat in the classroom or grab breakfast in the hallway in the mornings to ensure maximum participation, said Freeman.

Provision II Breakfast participating schools are Beulah Elementary, Burnett Elementary, Factory Shoals Elementary, North Douglas Elementary, Sweetwater Elementary and Yeager Middle School.

“In these schools, we are only serving breakfast to 40 percent of the students,” said Freeman, “whereas at lunch, we serve 87 percent of the students. We are trying to get breakfast meals up with lunch meals and see if the schools show improvement.”

She said the principals at the selected schools are excited and on board, as well as committed to the program for two years.

The program is funded by the National School Breakfast Program.

The school nutrition program will be rolling out a supper program in the fall as part of the Douglas County School System’s qualified after school programs as part of the federally funded Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP.)

In the program, students will receive a meal instead of a snack, explained Freeman. Snacks were made up of two components — a fruit and a grain, such as fruit juice and graham crackers. The supper will consist of a meat, grain, vegetable, fruit and milk.

Funding for the CACFP comes through grants to the states from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and administered through the Bright from the Start program serving school children through age 18.

Freeman said that coaches have said that many of our kids are hungry.

“They are grateful for the summer program and will come to practice in order to get fed,” she said.

New menu items introduced

High school students can look forward to an iced coffee/frappachino on the menu when school starts back, following the successful addition of the smoothies already served, said Freeman.

Under consideration is a taco/nacho bowl with barbecue pork and flatbread created in house.

“We are also developing recipes with quinoa,” Freeman said, “and improving recipes such as the Jamaican Beef Patty and peas and rice. We are also developing different soups for high school, such as chicken tortilla soup.”

She said school nutrition tries to offer a menu based on student selection and participation and try to tweak it from time to time. For example, they have tweaked the Pork Carnita meat and turned it into a spicy hoagie.

“We try to recreate what we have into a different form,” she said