Community partners to provide healthy bread for students

Jane Stebbins
Special to the Leader
Posted 6/4/20

Chimacum students are getting a little extra in the lunch bags delivered every day to bus stops near their homes.

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Community partners to provide healthy bread for students

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Chimacum students are getting a little extra in the lunch bags delivered every day to bus stops near their homes.

Along with a breakfast and lunch — and shelf-stable meals for the weekends — they get a loaf of locally grown, milled and baked bread, thanks to a $4,120 grant from the Jefferson County Foundation for the Community Wellness Project’s Neighbor Loaves program.

These days, a bus driver and two aides deliver almost 4,000 meals each week to anyone up to age 18 in the Chimacum and Port Townsend school districts. That’s about 700 to 800 meals per day, noted Margaret Garrett, food service director with Chimacum schools, who with other cooks and aides prepare the sack lunches for students every school day. Five days worth of meals were delivered to each student to cover Spring Break. On top of that, shelf-stable weekend food is distributed Fridays under the “Chimacum Backpacks for Kids” program.

Shelby Smith is on the board of the Community Wellness Project, whose goal is to cultivate the health and well-being of Jefferson County students. Other projects they’ve worked on include creating school gardens and helping food services at the schools transition to more “scratch-cooked” dishes and locally-sourced ingredients to help kids make the connection between farm and meals for healthy eating habits throughout their lives.

The idea of adding bread to the delivered-food mix was the brainchild of Crystie Kisler of Finnriver Farms and Shelby Smith of the Community Wellness Project, according to Lauren Reinertsen, head of operations with bakery Pane d’Amore.

“It’s a community effort,” she said. “We got together and made it happen.”

“It happened real fast,” Smith said. “We only had a few weeks to try to get families from Chimacum schools looped in on the receiving end, so we pushed real quick and figured it out as we went.”

Food during lockdown

The school district started providing free bagged meals to local children, age 18 and under, March 23 after schools were closed statewide under Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order. Most of those who receive the lunches are the same ones who get meals at school during a normal school year.

Any child can receive a free bagged meal by contacting the schools to learn where the nearest bus stop is and showing up at a designated time. Port Townsend offers designated sites where meals can be picked up.

Coronavirus forced the bread program founders to accelerate work they were already hoping to do.

“When the pandemic hit and schools were canceled, we thought, ‘Oh, my goodness; what can we do?’” Smith said. “A lot of people are going to experience food insecurity for the first time. We were thrilled about the meal service delivery through the schools and thought, ‘This is amazing. Is there a way we can use the same delivery mechanism, but work a little further to provide additional nutrition and support for families? What could that look like? How could we do that?’”

A staff worker at a Washington State University Extension office introduced them to Neighbor Loaves, which was already operating in the Midwest.

“We thought, ‘That could work,’” Smith said. “The model’s already built.”

The collaboration was off and growing — and milling, baking and delivering.

The Community Wellness Program folks then recruited Washington State University’s Bread Lab to find the perfect recipe — one that was healthy, but that kids would actually like.

Enter the Bread Lab at the extension office in Skagit County, which they can change the world through proper nutrition.

“They used whole wheat, and made this super squishy stock that any kid would love to eat,” Smith said. “It’s sort of like white bread, but with whole grain. We thought, ‘If we could put together this program and build it so it could be self-sustaining in perpetuity…’ In the meantime, the school could benefit.”

“It’s an approachable loaf,” Reinertsen said. “It had to please a lot of different palettes.”

They took their regular recipe for their popular hearth bread and switching out 40 percent of the flour to include Finnriver’s Oland heritage wheat. Add a little honey instead of brown sugar, and a new recipe was born.

“People love to see things grown and milled locally,” Reinertsen said. “So far, we’re getting really good feedback.”

“I grew up in Port Townsend and lived most of my life in Quilcene on a farm,” said Jack Pokorny, of the Community Wellness Project. “I always loved eating local food. We are so privileged to live in a community full of great farms.

“But I’m cognizant of the fact that it’s a pain to purchase local food because it’s so expensive,” he said. 

Pokorny said he believes a lot of residents in Chimacum think buying locally is just a privileged thing only Port Townsend folks can afford.

“Chimacum was chosen because they’re the heart of our food system and one with a greater need,” he added.

Fifty loaves a day — 250 a week — are taken to Chimacum schools and sent out with bus drivers on their routes to distribute with the lunch bags.

“I think it’s amazing, actually,” Garrett said. “If you get real deep, it’s about supply lines. All across the country, there are problems with supply lines, and this is local, local, local.”

New product

The collaboration plans to alter the program as summer approaches and school buses are no longer making food deliveries. Pane d’Amore will continue to make bread for its retail shops, and customers can opt to buy two loaves of bread at the bakery, but only take one home. The other will be donated to an organization that helps people with food insecurity.

And while 250 loaves a week might seem like a lot, Reinertsen said it’s not enough to bring Pane d’Amore back to its pre-pandemic business days.

“It’ll probably take years to get back to where we were before the closure,” she said, noting that many wholesale buyers are closed as are some of their smaller stores. The bakery in Sequim offers take-out.

“But it ticks up every day. It’ll take awhile to get up to speed,” Reinertsen said.

Smith has high hopes.

“It’s amazing how people have come together and made things work for kids, families, people who might not have enough to eat during these unprecedented times,” she said, noting that many residents signed over their federal stimulus checks to the Jefferson Community Foundation to disburse to help others.

“I love that there are folks who have seen the unfolding situation in the world this spring and want to support this, to meet the gaps that are appearing as our economy frays and goes through this shock. This community rises to the occasion and serves the vulnerable among us.”

The bus schedule and details are at csd49.org; click on the “Meal Service” link. More information can be obtained by calling food services at 360-302-5807 or the bus barn at 360-302-5812.

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