Community Focus on School Meal Program

The salad bar seemed like a big hit with Hoopa Valley High School students at lunchtime. Monique Sonoquie, who has a student at Jack Norton School, would like to see more fresh food choices and a salad bar at Jack Norton. / Photo by Kristan Korns, Two Rivers Tribune

By KRISTAN KORNS, Two Rivers Tribune

Parents and school district staff are looking at more ways to deliver healthy and nutritious food to students in the Klamath-Trinity Joint Unified School District (KTJUSD).

Parent Monique Sonoquie said, “I wanted to look at what we can do district-wide to introduce more healthy foods.”

Sonoquie met with district employees, parents, and other community members last week at Hoopa Valley High School to push for more community involvement.

“Parents would like to get together and can bumper crops of fresh fruits and vegetables and give them to the schools,” Sonoquie said.

Interim KTJUSD Superintendant Dione Beilby said there were rules on what the District was legally allowed to take. “We can take fresh tomatoes, but we can’t take anything canned in a non-certified kitchen.”

Beilby added that meal plans are tightly-regulated by state and federal guidelines. “Everything has to fall into a range of how many carbohydrates, or grains, and so on per day and per week.”

Hoopa High School’s Head Cook, Kathy Hofacker, said, “If the State walks in and there are things that aren’t on your menu, you’re in trouble.”

A lunchtime tour of Hoopa High’s cafeteria revealed a large, well-stocked salad bar, a nice sandwich bar, several choices of fruit, and meatball sandwiches for the main course.

Hofacker said, “We offer them options instead of just serving them a tray full of food.

Vice Principal Rose Francia said, “The salad bar is very popular.”

Food is sent up to Weitchpec Elementary and to Jack Norton School from the kitchen at Hoopa High School each day, because of space and storage limitations at the remote school sites.

Jack Norton School’s two refrigerators are run on propane because there’s no electrical power in the area. This limits how much fresh food they can store.

Mason Clark, KTJUSD’s cafeteria operations manager, said, “For Jack Norton, we ship fresh fruit and vegetables up each week. We get it two days before we send it up and she keeps as much as she can in stock with two propane refrigerators.”

Clark is a San Francisco Culinary Academy graduate, and was deli manager for Eureka Natural Foods – the largest organic grocery store in the area – for nearly 10 years.

“My goal has been to have as much fresh and minimally-processed food as I can,” Clark said.

That job has become more difficult over the years, as federal funding is steadily cut back and many food programs have been eliminated.

Francia said, “Just recently, the Farm Bill cut funding to school gardens; there were 35 school gardens in the County and funding was cut out.”

None of the students pay for their meals, and one of the District’s priorities is to make sure that breakfast and lunch stay free of charge to KTJUSD families.

Beilby said, “This program was $60,000 in the red, and we’re trying to bring that down a bit so we don’t have to charge. The question I’ve been looking at is ‘how can we continue to feed the students, while keeping the standards, and not being so much in the red?’”

Sonoquie and other parents said they hope to continue meeting to find ways for community members to help the District do that.

“I’d like to look at getting a grant to get a salad bar for Jack Norton,” Sonoquie said. “We’re holding a meeting on Tuesday, March 11, at the Tribal Office in Weitchpec, and I think some of the Tribal Council members wanted to come.”

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