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A grant for kitchen appliances promises to uplift Victor schools’ farm-to- school program

thumbnail_Alexandra Victor Central schools 2.jpg
provided by School Nutrition Foundation
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Alexandra TePoel-DeWitt stands next to a meat slicer that's about to be replaced with the help of a $20k grant.

The Victor Central School District is getting a kitchen upgrade in the coming school year with the help of a grant.

The School Nutrition Foundation awarded the district’s food services team a $20,000 Hobart Equipment Grant — revenue that comes as a relief to the district’s food services director at a time of budget restraints and supply-chain delays.

"School meal programs have faced so many difficult challenges over the last few years,” said Diane Pratt-Heavner, a spokesperson with School Nutrition Foundation.

"When schools shut down in March 2020, they really had to pivot to figure out how to move the cafeteria to the curbside and keep serving students who needed healthy meals even when schools were closed."

A buffalo slicer dating back to about 1965 is one of the oldest pieces of equipment getting replaced at the district’s central kitchen, the food services director, Alexandra TePoel-DeWitt said.

"What that does helps us process foods like whole vegetables, chopping them up a lot easier and a lot quicker,” said TePoel-DeWitt, who is also a certified dietitian.

But with ongoing supply chain disruptions, it may take until September before the new equipment will arrive, something her team has already been dealing with.

“It takes sometimes forever to get something just as simple as a washer for the dish machine,” TePoel-DeWitt said. “I still haven't received it, let’s put it that way. I ordered it probably two months ago and it’s just a rubber O ring.”

It’s one sign that the effects of the pandemic are not over.

“We heard from a lot of school districts in the application pool this year that had really seen their equipment funds dry up during the pandemic,” said Diane Pratt-Heavner, a spokesperson with School Nutrition Foundation.

“The supply chain disruptions and food price inflation have really hit the meal program budgets hard. And that often cuts into those equipment maintenance, replacement, and repair funds.”

The grant is expected to go towards an automatic meat slicer and a buffalo chopper, TePoel-DeWitt said, two kitchen appliances that she says will make the district’s farm-to-school program flourish in a way it couldn’t before.

"We're surrounded by farms. Our students here are the children of farmers. So I just felt that it was the right thing to do,” TePoel-DeWitt said. “We're trying to encourage better, healthier eating habits.”

Those plans were put on hold because of the pandemic, but she said they won’t need to be put off much longer.

Noelle E. C. Evans is an education reporter/producer with a background in documentary filmmaking and education.