After experiencing massive success last year with its summer feeding program food truck, the Tullahoma City Schools Nutrition Department has now purchased its very own ride and is breaking barriers while doing it.
TCS is the first school district in the state to offer a summer feeding program through its very own food truck, according to Food Service Director Angela Cardwell. While plenty of school districts have turned school buses into mobile food stations or held pop-up shops for area students in need of a hot, nutritious meal, Tullahoma is the only district to take a leap of faith and purchase its very own customized food truck.
According to Cardwell, not having any in-state model to follow was tough, though she found a school in an adjacent state that was able to help with the request for proposal (RFP) put out for the truck specifications she needed. The school, located in South Carolina, had just purchased a food truck last year, Cardwell said, and officials there were more than happy to help her with the RFP process and to go over all the documentation with her.
Having her own truck to customize as she wanted means Cardwell can install features that will better serve the children of Tullahoma in a more efficient manner.
While she was thankful to the Salvation Army of Franklin County for allowing her team to use their food truck last summer, she found a few things that caused some delay in her team’s food service last year.
For instance, she said, most food trucks are built with adults in mind rather than children, meaning the serving window was far too high for a number of children to reach. Additionally, Cardwell said she asked for a pop-out step stool to be included in her truck. Having the extra boost would help smaller children, like the largely K through five crowd served by the truck, step up to grab their meals.
“We had quite a few spills and hold-ups last summer because they simply could not reach,” Cardwell said.
Another feature Cardwell was excited about was a retractable awning that will help provide shade to those waiting in line.
“We added this because we are required to have them consume the meals at the site before we leave,” Cardwell said. “We have to watch them eat the meals - they can’t take them back home. With very little communal areas to congregate at each housing development, I decided to create a pop-up dining location.”
This idea came in part from the library, which Cardwell said has been a tremendous help in the summer feeding program. Each time the truck stops at the library, the staff bring out blankets and turns the outdoor area into a picnic area for those eating from the truck.
Another much-needed feature Cardwell ensured was installed in the district’s truck was a “super deluxe” air conditioning unit. Keeping her staff cool during the summer is a priority for Cardwell, and the summer days in Tennessee don’t often get rain or shade, she said.
“The other truck just couldn’t maintain a cool environment with all the windows opening and hot foods,” Cardwell said, “and the unit would just shut off constantly, so we made sure to take care of our staff and keep them in safe working environments and comfortable.”
Also on the inside will be a fully-equipped kitchen that will allow her staff to prepare nutritious meals just as they do during the school year.
Included among the kitchen features will be multiple warming racks, “hot hold stations,” a flat top grill, a three-compartment steam table, a cold sandwich prep table, “cold hold drawers,” refrigerators and even a mini freezer to provide children with some frozen treats throughout the summer.
Cardwell also said the truck will have cabinets “in every spot possible” for much-needed storage, as well as stainless steel fixtures.
Through the RFP process was “daunting” for her, Cardwell said she had tremendous help, both in-state and out.
Locally, Cardwell said Richard Steiner with the Tullahoma Fire Department and local environmental health specialist Larry Evans “have been wonderful” in helping her with her mission.
“They fully support this mission and have made this process as stress-free as possible for me to make sure we are doing everything correct to achieve our permit and safety features accordingly,” she said.
Additionally, the school district in South Carolina was tremendously helpful in working with Cardwell on the RFP, she said.
The truck is currently being built in Indiana, Cardwell said, but will be in town at the beginning of next month.
Once the truck is at its new home, Cardwell said she will be training her staff on how to navigate the truck, as well as go on a couple test drives to nail down this summer’s route.
The truck will hit the streets this summer once school lets out for the summer.
“It’s going to be super functional to quickly pump out some awesome and delicious meals while making it fun and relevant and custom to our community and children’s needs,” Cardwell said.
Be on the lookout for the fully-decorated truck, complete with images of the food served in the cafeterias in Tullahoma.
For more information about the truck and to keep up with its progress, visit Tullahoma City Schools Nutrition Department on Facebook or call Cardwell at 931-454-2604.
Erin McCullough may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.