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Boardman Food Service Supervisor speaks at D.C. action conference
April 1, 2020

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Just before the order to stay at home was given to fight the Coronavirus spread, Boardman Food Service Supervisor Natalie Winkle made the trip to Washington D.C. for the School Nutrition Association Legislative Action Conference. Winkle serves as President of the Northeast Ohio Cafeteria Workers Local Chapter 78. The chapter includes 150 cafeteria workers and food service directors from the region.

"I was a part of an Ohio delegation that represented NorthEast Ohio," Winkle said. "The need to make sure kids are getting the best food possible had us meeting on how to implement a summer meal program, which Boardman is going to do this year for the first time. We also discussed how to attract employees who want to work in the school food service environment. We are constantly looking for staff."

Among the speakers at the conference was Sonny Purdue, the U.S. D.A. Secretary of Agriculture, who spoke to the 900 in attendance about the job food service in the schools are doing and the benefits they bring.

"He called us the people on the front lines when it comes to the kids," Winkle said. "I really think Mr. Purdue understands what we do is not just food on a plate. It is watching out for the kids who need extra help, kids that are sad and need a smile, that is what we do. Food is secondary. Kindness and care is definitely a priority when it comes to our kids.

Another part of the conference had the food service representatives meeting with legislators to bring up concerns. Winkle said one concern was the number of children on reduced meal program, where kids only pay a small portion of for their food. In many cases the charges are not getting paid. She said most favored getting rid of the reduced part and making those meals free.

Another concern brought up with legislators involved the enormous amount of paperwork placed on Food Service Directors.

"We used to have an Administrative review (which is a lengthy review of our Food Service Departments) every five years, they upped it to every three years, along with that we have a fiscal review every three years and a Procurement review every three years," she said. "The amount of work that goes into one review is enormous let alone three separate reviews all in consecutive years. We asked if they could consider making the waiver that was granted for this review cycle season to move the review cycle to a 5 year review as a permanent cycle for reviews. We explained with so much paperwork and so much time being spent on each review, we do not have the opportunity to do the fun things with the kids like taste testing, like guest servers, like creating new menu ideas and more. I am hopeful that the people making the decisions on how the Nutrition Depts. in school systems work, will think about what we talked about and see that the most important thing we can do is feed our kids, just help us do that."

Winkle said the Coronavirus was discussed at the conference and the lawmakers in D.C. were not permitted to shake hands. As the week long conference continued, the pandemic was getting worse.

"Just like here things changed daily," she said. "All in all, Sonny Perdue told us he would do whatever he could to help make sure the kids got fed during this pandemic. He has helped allow us to go into Summer Lunch mode now so we can feed the kids. You see the rules for Summer lunch are different than National School Lunch (the regular school lunch program)."

She said in the NSLP the only child that would receive discounted price food or free food would be the kids that qualified for meal assistance. In the summer program any child ages 1-18 is able to come for food, so siblings of the enrolled children can also get food.

"This is a big deal," Winkle said. "We have given out a lot of meals in the last few weeks, so this change helped greatly! We have given out close to 15,000 meals and are getting set for Monday to hand out more."

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