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Posts Tagged ‘nutrition’

-Blog post by Reed Sandridge of Washington, DC.

One in three children in the U.S. is overweight or obese according to the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.  Pressure is growing on strapped for cash school systems to provide healthier meals.  D.C. Public Schools has implemented a salad bar system this year and asked for volunteers to help teach students how to make a healthy salad that complies with USDA requirements for school meals.

I signed up to help out at Ballou Senior High School.  Named after former D.C. superintendent of schools Dr. Frank W. Ballou, the school is located southeast of the Anacostia River and has a student body of about 1,000, nearly all of them eligible for free and reduced lunch.  I parked my car in the almost empty lot next to the football field and walked up the hill toward the school passing several parked police cars.  A friendly smile greeted me as the front door opened and a uniformed security guard motioned toward an airport like security checkpoint.  After collecting my camera and the contents of my pockets from the other side of the x-ray machine, the same woman explained to me how to get to the cafeteria.

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Ballou's salad bar minutes before students flood the cafeteria. (photo: Reed Sandridge)

I made my way across the empty dimly lit cafeteria and poked my head in the kitchen.  A dozen school cafeteria employees, mostly women, were busy making last-minute preparations for the second day of the school year.  I was directed to Mr. Sparrow, a thirty-year veteran of the food service industry.  He explained the task at hand and I, along with another volunteer named Hale, got ready for the first wave of students.

“It aint going to be easy,” Mr. Sparrow told me.  “You’ve got to make sure they have a balanced meal that includes vegetables, a protein, a fruit and a grain.”  Sounds easy enough, right?

Although most students chose the standard school meal, probably about 60 or 70 lined up to make a salad.  Freshly prepared that morning, the salad bar looked delicious.  Although students could choose from fresh romaine, arugula and endive, most stuck with the standard romaine lettuce.  Zucchini sticks weren’t very popular either, despite my sales pitch to the young people. Turkey ham, eggs, bacon bits and ranch dressing were the hot items.

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This young man made the healthiest salad I saw all day - all on his own! (photo: Reed Sandridge)

“Sir,” called out Mr. Sparrow to an upperclassmen dressed in the standard blue shirt and beige pants, “I need you to take a piece of fruit with you.”  The student pushed back some saying that he wasn’t going to eat it.  In the end he reluctantly grabbed a shiny red delicious apple and went on his way.  This type of scenario played out about half the time.  Sometimes they were missing fruit, other times they had loaded up on just meat and almost nothing else.  Stern yet compassionate, Sparrow and his team work with the students to get it right.  I secretly wondered where they found the patience to do this every single day.

An altercation erupts in the cafeteria courtyard and the half-dozen police officers on hand in the cafeteria quickly defuse it.  The experienced kitchen staff is unphased; just another day.

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Mr. Sparrow (right) gives some coaching to the students on their salad preparation. (photo: Reed Sandridge)

Overall it was a good experience.  It had been a while since I had been in a school cafeteria.  Although I applaud Ballou and DC Public Schools for taking on this initiative, I believe they will need additional help to make this work properly.  Just keeping the salad bar looking presentable is a full-time job for one worker who was busy restocking and cleaning up spilled toppings.  They need someone for the foreseeable future helping students build a healthy lunch.  As students head back to school tomorrow, the volunteers won’t be there anymore and I am afraid Mr. Sparrow and his team will be stretched too thin.

Check out this video that DC Public Schools put together to help volunteers learn how to build salads that qualify under USDA guidelines as a school meal.  I thought it was pretty good!

Here is a link to some other photographs that I took.  I will have more uploaded later this week.

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I know what you might be thinking…Day 116?!  What happened to Days 109-115?  Did Reed take a break?  Did he forget to tell us all that he is entitled to 2 weeks of “paid” vacation…i.e. not paying others! :)  Nope, that’s not the case.  I am simply behind on the administrative side of my year-long experience.  But don’t worry.  To steal and modify a great Teddy Kennedy quote, the giving goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dreams shall never die.The reason that I am posting Day 116 today is that I had the honor of sharing my giving experience today with Liane Hansen and Jack Zahora of NPR.  Many of you probably already know Liane as the host of NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday.  Jack is a NPR producer for the show.  They are putting a story together for this Sunday’s program, which airs from 8am to 10am on WAMU here in DC.  The show is broadcasted on more than 600 stations around the country…so check your local NPR station to see when it will be on.  Later that day the story will be posted on http://www.npr.org.

It is strange to meet someone that you have heard for years but don’t really know.  Liane didn’t disappoint…she was great.  I’m guessing she has pretty much worked every weekend for the last 20 years…would you be willing to do that? 

Anyway, so they were following me around.  I was in the Chinatown neighborhood looking for a recipient and found Molly. 

Molly (Photo: Reed)

Molly was walking her bike down 7th Street when I pulled her over to talk to me.  She seemed like she was in a bit of a hurry at first, but probably was just more skeptical of what I was doing than anything else.  It turns out that at the age of 31 Molly has returned to school to make a career change.  She is studying nutrition at the University of Maryland after having a career in marketing and communications.   

I asked her what she was doing today and she said that she had been studying and now was rewarding herself with a little shopping trip.  “Although I should probably be studying now” she said. 

She said that she was going to use the $10 to buy a couple of grande skim lattes at Starbucks.  Although she decided to use the money for herself, she sounds like a pretty dedicated giver.  She has volunteered her time teaching exercise classes to women in shelters, tutored children in coursework, helped out at So Others Might Eat (S.O.M.E.), helped an organization that offered tax assistance to low income individuals, etc.  Pretty impressive.  She also has an internship with DC Hunger http://www.dchunger.org/ whose mission it is to eliminate hunger in the District.

Liane Hansen interviewing Molly while Jack captures sound (Photo: Reed)

Molly was a terrific sport.  I hope that you have the opportunity to hear our interaction on the NPR segment this Sunday!

Oh, and if anybody wants to help this aspiring nutritionist, she is in dire need of a good biochemistry tutor!  Somebody help!

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