Capital schools’ food truck now delivers: District to keep kids fed when schools are off

DOVER — Denise Collingwood serves lunch each school day at William Henry Elementary, but Monday she joined coworkers to take the food to the students, even knocking on doors to rouse customers for free meals.

The Capital School District’s new food truck drove into Simon Circle Monday to distribute free soup and sandwiches to those 18 years and younger. After setting up and giving lunch to a few girls, the staff stood waiting for customers.

So Collingwood, Nora Brooks,  and John Hunte started walking the neighborhood, knocking on doors and encouraging residents to visit the truck.

“There’s some kids,” Ms. Collingwood said, crossing the street to reach them. Another family caught her eye. “Come on, we’ve got free lunches” she called.

With schools closed Monday for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, the district thought it was a good time to take its food truck — the first operated by a school district in Kent County — for a test drive and spread the word that it would be a regular presence in Capital district neighborhoods this summer.

Child Nutrition Services employee Denise Collingwood helps students, from left, Paris Wilson, Makayla Wilson and Jada Moran during a stop at Simon Circle in Dover Monday, when the Capital School District rolled out its new food truck. (Delaware State News/Ashley Dawson)

“It’s a blessing,” said Lakisa Perry-Barlow, whose children took lunches Monday. “We need something here for the kids.”

Kiara Wilson saw the food truck stop announced on the district website and brought her children; daughters Paris and Makayla Wilson and Jada Moran said they liked the lunch. Monday’s menu featured a turkey sandwich, cream of vegetable soup, chocolate chip cookie and milk.

Child Nutrition Services employee Nora Brooks works inside the Capital district’s new food truck while coworker Denise Collingwood talks to students, from left, Paris Wilson, Makayla Wilson and Jada Moran during a stop at Simon Circle in Dover. (Delaware State News/Ashley Dawson)

“I think it’s pretty cool,” Ms. Wilson said. “I like the fact that they’re always offering ways to keep the kids involved and offering to help out.”

“I like the van. It’s really catchy,” she said.

Second grader Makayla, whose favorite school lunch is chicken alfredo, said, “I’m going to tell all my friends” about the Chef Senator’s food truck.

The mobile cafeteria is part of the district’s strategic plan to serve the whole child, explained Capital School District Board of Education president Sean Christiansen, noting that data shows that students do better academically when they eat a nutritionally balanced breakfast and lunch.

Capital Supervisor of Child Nutrition James Trower said the food truck, a year in the making, is a continuation of the National School Lunch Program. Under a USDA Community Eligibility Provision, all Capital schools already qualify to serve students breakfast and lunch at no cost and without the burden of districts processing free and reduced-lunch applications.

Even with summer school programs offering free meals, there were pockets of children in need who weren’t being reached, so Mr. Trower said the district last summer served lunch free at the Capital City Farmers Market each week. There was still a void of school-age children in the Dover area without access to food because school wasn’t in session.

Child Nutrition Services employee Stevie Harris packages lunch inside the Capital School District’s new food truck on Monday. (Delaware State News/Ashley Dawson)

“This is a way for food nutrition services to reach them,” Mr. Trower said with more efficiency than the market set-up. Food services staff had to haul tables, tents and coolers of food in a district truck to the market each week, and could only provide foods that required little prep and didn’t have to be heated.

The new food truck cost an estimated $147,000 and was purchased with federal school lunch program grants.

The truck will visit communities Monday through Thursday each week during the summer break and provide a free lunch to anyone 18 years old and younger.

Laura Garcia shows off her signature, which graces the side of the Capital School District’s food truck. The seventh grader won the districtwide contest to name the truck after she came up with Chef Senator’s. (Delaware State News/Ashley Dawson)

Ms. Brooks, a lead worker in the Dover High School cafeteria, said she has seen a definite hike in students eating breakfast and lunch in the seven years she has worked in the cafeteria.

“It has increased a lot since we went to free breakfast and lunch. We have more kids eating,” she said, adding that she hopes the food truck summer program builds on that interest.

“I just want more kids to come out,” she said.

Student designed

The food truck was designed through a districtwide contest.

Jennifer Ewton, a 10th grader at Dover High designed the artwork, modifying the district’s Senator icon so that he wears a chef’s hat instead of a tri-corner hat.

Lexi Cruz, who attends Fairview Elementary, came up with the slogan: Fresh Food with a Groove.

Laura Theresa Garcia, who attends Central Middle, won for the name. “I was thinking of senators who could cook, so I thought of chefs.”

Seeing her work on the side of the food truck while it was parked at Simon Circle Monday was “really cool,” she said. “It looks pretty. I like it.”

Ashley Dawson is managing editor of the Delaware State News. Email adawson@newszap.com.

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