Summer feeding program has most successful year
This summer, Angela Cardwell had one goal: to double the number of meals she served during the Tullahoma City Schools (TCS) summer feeding program in order to feed more children.
Following the close of the summer season, Cardwell has more than delivered on that pledge.
Thanks to the Starvation Salvation Station, or S3, food truck, Cardwell and her staff were able to serve more than 400 meals each weekday this summer, she said. There were even multiple days where the team was able to serve more than 500 meals a day, she added.
Even better, the truck helped the program blow past the total number of meals served in 2017.
“The truck more than exceeded our expectations,” Cardwell said. “We served almost 16,000 meals in 39 days. Last year we served 41 days and just over 11,000 meals.”
Cardwell credited the superb performance to her team members, who worked out of the East Lincoln Elementary School kitchen as a home base.
“We had a great team working at East Lincoln preparing all the food, delivering to Kool Kids (the district’s extended care program) and serving all the families that came into this daily site as well,” Cardwell said.
Making meals mobile
While the summer feeding program has been in place for the last several years, this was the first year Cardwell decided to take the meals on the road in a food truck, which was provided thanks to a partnership with the Salvation Army of Franklin County.
“The SA truck was fabulous, and we are so grateful for the partnership,” Cardwell said.
The idea of using the Salvation Army’s truck was to see how well the program worked with the mobile force delivering meals across town, Cardwell said in May.
If the food truck worked well enough, Cardwell said, she would look into purchasing an entirely customized food truck for the nutrition department in order to continue the mobile feeding.
Using the truck was an incredible learning experience for her and her staff, Cardwell said.
“We learned exactly what we want/need in the purchase of our own truck in order to maximize effectiveness and produce as much food as we can each day,” she said.
Purchasing her own truck
Given all the team has learned about what needs must be met with their own truck, Cardwell said she will be moving forward with soliciting bids for a fully customized food truck for her department.
“I will be writing a bid to purchase my own truck for next summer, and it will take most of the year to build the truck,” she said.
“We want to take our time and make sure we don’t overlook any details,” Cardwell said. Making sure all the specifications she needs are met will ensure the functionality of the truck is maximized, she added.
“We have one shot at this and want to do it right,” she said.
Cardwell estimated that having her own fully customized food truck will cost somewhere in the range of $70,000 to $100,000. The money Cardwell will use on the truck comes from her own budget, meaning it does not have any bearing on the district’s general fund balance at all.
Improving on summer success
Despite how well this summer’s program went, Cardwell said there were still areas where her team could potentially improve next year’s program.
Specifically, Cardwell said there were some timing issues that came up during this year’s rounds.
“We found that there is not enough time in the day to go to both sides of town [east and west] to deliver and observe meals being consumed,” she said.
According to USDA regulations, in order to participate in the summer feeding program, program coordinators must observe the children receiving meals eating them in order to make sure they are being consumed by those who need them, i.e., children.
“This is not a regulation that I can choose to ignore, otherwise I would not receive funding,” she said. “It really requires a lot of additional time off the streets delivering more meals when we must wait 10 to 20 minutes at each stop to wait for them [the children] to eat.”
Adding another truck
A way to improve the efficiency of the meal delivery would be to have two separate trucks – one for the east side of town and another for the west side.
Cardwell said that is a new goal she has – to have double the wheels for the coming years.
“We can still reach more [children] if I have a truck dedicated to each side of the tracks,” she said.
Since the partnership with SA went so well this year, Cardwell said she reached out to the group for the continued use of the truck for next year, but as of Friday they had not gotten back with her as to whether or not that would be possible.
Covered picnic areas
Additionally, Cardwell is required to observe the meals being eaten in a “communal area,” which many of this year’s delivery spots do not have.
“Most of our lower-income housing areas do not have such areas with a covered picnic table area,” she said.
This also means there were children who did not come to the truck due to the high temperatures and heat index this summer, she added.
Heat advisories make being outside in the direct sun almost unbearable,” she said. “We lost many children participating because they were just too hot to eat outside.”
Covered picnic areas also provide protection from rain, Cardwell added, which will also drive away some potential participants.
That doesn’t mean nothing can be done about it, however.
Cardwell said she has reached out to both Mayor Lane Curlee and the Rev. Steven Hovater of The church of Christ at Cedar Lane in order to inquire about potential fundraising/communal aide.
“We are going to brain storm to see what our city, churches and local [nonprofits] can do to build and create such areas,” Cardwell said.
In particular, Cardwell said covered picnic areas were needed at most of the apartment complexes in town, such as Ada Ferrell, Dossett, Eastgate, Briarwood and Whispering Oaks.
Tullahoma Village does have a picnic area, though it is not covered, so Cardwell said it will also be a focus area.
Other truck uses
Having her own truck rather than borrowing someone else’s opens up a world of possibilities beyond the summer for Cardwell, she said.
If she has year-round access to a truck, Cardwell said she would use it for school-year events in addition to the summertime food program.
“The possibilities are endless how I can maximize the use of this truck,” she said. “We can go to local community events and cater meals onsite and offsite.”
Some possible uses for the truck include Friday night football games in the fall, catering various school festivals and field days, parking for pep rallies and even serving a curb-side breakfast in the mornings before school.
The truck would allow her to serve food just as her cafeteria staff does in each building.
“The truck will just allow us more opportunities to stand out and feed more kids,” she said.
Regardless of the possibilities the future brings, Cardwell said this summer’s work on the truck was “amazing.”
“It was the most rewarding and humbling experience I have had so far in my five years of tenure TCS as Director of Nutrition,” she said.
She and her truck team, made up of Jennifer Myers, Tracy Miller and Krissi DeLaughter, had several moments where they had to stop and get a hold of their emotions when serving the children, she said.
“To see some of them suffering and so hungry and so desperate was incredibly heartbreaking,” she said.
However, knowing that they were helping these children have a better day with some good, nutritious food, made the experience all worthwhile.
“Such a huge array of emotions and empathy flooded our hearts each day when we boarded that truck,” she said. “To bring such jot to these sweet kiddos is an amazing feeling.”
Erin McCullough may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.