Riverbank and Patterson big winners as school kitchens granted extra funding

Riverbank and Patterson school districts will receive some of the largest cafeteria-related grants announced by the California Department of Education.

Winners from three grant programs were announced Tuesday for food prep equipment, expansion of breakfast and summer meals, and the addition of a fresh produce snack during the school day.

“School can be one of the few places where children from low-income families may receive a healthy meal,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson in a press release. “These grants will not only help upgrade some equipment in school kitchens, but will also go to provide more fresh fruits and vegetables to students in need.”

Priority was given to districts with the highest concentrations of poor students, grant guidelines say.

Riverbank Unified will get $86,442 for equipment, sixth-largest out of 205 grants totaling $3 million given in the state and the only Northern California district in the top nine.

Patterson Joint Unified will tap $63,480 in funding to expand school breakfasts and summer meals, sixth out of 20 districts sharing $1 million in such grants. Patterson also will receive a small award of $1,190 for school-day snacks of fresh fruits and vegetables, one of 367 awards for $1 million statewide.

The grants will buy insulated, heated mobile cabinets and commercial refrigerators at school sites, said Steve Menge, Patterson’s assistant superintendent of administrative services.

“The cabinets will allow for hot breakfast to be prepared and served on-site,” Menge said by email. “With the purchase of these pieces of equipment, the cafeterias will be able to maintain hot and cold food at the appropriate temperature.”

Warmer hot foods and crisper cold foods will add to school lunch appeal, he added, tying in with a campaign to increase the numbers of kids eating school meals.

“Funds will also be used for outreach and promotion activities which will focus on eliminating the negative stigma of participating in the school breakfast program. It will also teach students and parents about the positive benefits good nutrition can have on a child’s overall health and academic performance,” Menge wrote.

The Stanislaus Union district in north Modesto got an equipment grant for $20,000, which will buy a freezer storage unit for the district’s central kitchen, said Superintendent Britta Skavdahl.

“(The dollars) will create efficiencies and improve food service for all schools in the district,” Skavdahl said.

Districts in Salida and Denair also got $20,000 grants. The funds for Salida will help pay for a new delivery truck, needed because of more meals being served, said Billy Reid, who runs the food programs for both districts.

“The funds at Denair are being used for a delivery vehicle of some description,” Reid said. A food truck is being considered to add to meal options there, he said.