HAZARD — Perry County Central High School received a USDA school kitchen equipment grant and purchased a steamer. While a steamer might not sound like much, 88 percent of school districts across the country are in need of similar updates to kitchen equipment and infrastructure.
This is important because, since 2009, Congress has provided over $200 million to help schools replace and improve food service equipment. This money is made available each year through the appropriations process, and Congressman Hal Rogers, whose district includes Perry Country High School, is the Chair of the House Appropriations Committee.
In the 2014 fiscal year, Kentucky was allocated $613,036 for school kitchen equipment grants. This money funded upgrades in 52 schools
According to a case study about Perry Central by PEW Charitable Trusts, the Perry County District has embarked on a major cafeteria renovation, funded with local and federal dollars. A U.S. Department of Agriculture grant financed the purchase of new serving lines, each with a large, integrated salad bar and stations with variable temperature settings. Now students can enjoy the full selection of hot and cold entrees and fresh, attractively displayed fruits and vegetables, a change that encourages healthy choices and provides more time for eating with friends.
In the same spirit of better nutrition and added convenience, the high school began offering breakfast and lunch to every student at no charge in 2012, eliminating the burden of school meal applications for families and paperwork for staff. The change was made possible by the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), which Congress introduced when it reauthorized child nutrition programs in 2010 and which allows schools with large percentages of low-income students to serve free meals to all.
Since Perry County opted in to CEP, its meal program participation rates and revenue have increased, enabling the Perry County School District’s Nutrition Director, Linda Campbell, to invest in additional upgrades to complement those paid for with the USDA grant. The school installed new ovens, tilting skillets, and refrigerated storage in the kitchen, along with better lighting and some high-top tables and chairs in the serving and dining areas, which also got a fresh coat of paint on the walls. “The mix of seating styles creates a look more like a restaurant, which helps the kids feel that this is a place for them, not just a place they have to be,” says Campbell. “It’s hard work, but we know it’s paying off because of all the positive comments we’re getting from students and staff.”
(Information in this article was provided by Danielle Ruckert of The PEW Charitable Trusts)
Sam Neace can be reached at 606-629-3243 or on Twitter @HazardHerald.