Fresh paint, fresh food at Gary schools
By Carole Carlson email@example.com/302-0949 October 7, 2013 1:12PM
Tim Schramm of A & A Painting and Decorating of Saginaw, Mich., paints the cafeteria at the Gary Area Career Center. The school district's new food service vendor spearheaded the brightening of cafeterias in all the schools. | Carole Carlson/Post-Tribune
Updated: November 9, 2013 6:04AM
GARY — Dunbar-Pulaski Middle School student Jakeyln Adams piled sour cream on her nachos as she ate lunch in the school cafeteria.
Other students grabbed the pizza.
“It tastes better and they give you more,” Adams said. She added a helping of pineapple with her lunch, too. “I like the fruit and healthy stuff.”
The students on Thursday were enjoying lunch in the freshly painted cafeteria, one of the new perks resulting from a contract with Sodexo Magic LLC, the district’s new food service provider, led by former basketball star Earvin “Magic” Johnson. Like Michelle Obama, Johnson often visits schools to promote healthy eating choices.
The company hired crews to paint all the district’s secondary school cafeterias in bright colors. Crews quietly brushed on orange paint in the Career Center cafeteria during a recent school board meeting.
The district turned to Sodexo Magic because Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt said its previous food service provider lost money. Reimbursement from the federal government’s free and reduced lunch program is based on the number of children who eat school lunches.
Clovice Crowe, Sodexo Magic’s interim food service manager in Gary, said there’s a different theme for each school, including a foodie theme at the Career Center because it offers a culinary course.
Crowe said they also launched an incentive program offering free dinners or gift cards for school employees, such as bus drivers or secretaries, who successfully sign up children to eat lunch in the cafeteria.
Sodexo Magic divides its meal offerings into a hot lunch venue and a deli-style selection area. Often, students prefer the hot nachos, hamburgers and pizza.
Crowe said it’s not easy to convince children to try the deli side, which offers fresh fruits and vegetables because they’d rather eat food they’re accustomed to having.
Eighth-grader Marquise Smith admits he rarely chooses fruit or vegetables. “I still like nachos and pizza. The atmosphere feels better though.”
Crowe said at least the cheese is low-fat and the pizza crust is whole wheat.
“We try to do work in some new and exciting things for them, like the fresh vegetable program.” She said the company hopes to offer a new vegetable taste-testing program soon with a grant.
The district follows the guidelines of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which funds child nutrition programs and free lunch programs over a five-year period. The bill set new nutrition standards for schools and set aside $4.5 billion for implementation.
In addition to lunch, the district offers a daily breakfast in its cafeterias.
“We need them in the cafeteria eating,” said Crowe. “For some students, it’s the only meal they get.”