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Real-Life “Stone Soup”

In the September 2012 issue of School Nutrition, Patricia L. Fitzgerald, Arianne Corbett, RD, and Cecily Walters shared the stories of school nutrition professionals who found themselves eye to eye with challenges presented during some recent natural disasters. Read on for an additional account that helps to demonstrate just how well the school community rises and shines when the weather rages and destruction reigns.

“I felt like an air traffic controller overseeing the whole operation.”

Severe flooding in many towns in parts of New York, New Jersey, Vermont and other states from the “downgraded” Hurricane Irene caused, shall we say “unusual” challenges for the typically challenging start of the school year. In Schoharie, N.Y., schools were scheduled to open on September 7. Located on high ground, they’d remained untouched by flood waters—and it would be good for the many students displaced by the storm to have a place to go.

The problem? Access to the village was cut off by high water, and School Foodservice Manager Josie Ennist, SNS, had no way to get deliveries. And like her peers around the country, Ennist and her team just figured out ways to feed the kids. “People would bring food from their freezers, gardens or local businesses,” she recounts. “We received baked goods, pizzas—even once accepted several bushels of fresh corn from a local farm. My cook used that corn and made up a stew with fresh veggies and sausage. It was so good that someone called me months later asking for the recipe!”

Menuing “on the fly” was a challenge, but Ennist had the dedicated commitment of her staff, and ready assistance from the community. When one business owner asked another for donations, it led to Ennist receiving a call from the wife of the owner of a large Northeast grocery chain. “She offered me anything I needed. It was a really neat thing.” Three different correctional facilities provided the services of inmates to clean up from the floods—a few were assigned to work in one of Ennist’s kitchens. “They did a great job,” she credits. When all was said and done, “I felt like an air traffic controller, overseeing the whole operation.”

In 20/20 hindsight, Ennist’s major regret—and advice to others encountering similar crises—was that she didn’t make more time to keep records for FEMA reimbursement of her team’s meal service to the first responders and prison inmates. “Make sure you record the food you used, your staff workers, volunteers, volunteer hours, staff hours, even down to the dish machine soap and paper supplies,” she cautions.