Last week I told you about how I met Mr. Bob Bloomer, the Regional Vice President for Chartwells-Thompson Hospitality for Chicago Public Schools. He agreed to answer a few of my questions and I appreciate that considering he is a busy guy (he oversees the day-to-day management of food services in 470 Chicago schools). I want to thank him for being gracious enough to participate.
1) Just so we’re clear, does your company have anything to do with the food I ate last year? No, as your school would have been serviced by Preferred Meals which is a separate contract with CPS. CPS requires that all meals meet the nutrition standards they set for school meals.
2) Tell me about yourself, where you are from and when you got interested in school food. I am originally from New York and came to CPS via Thompson Hospitality, our joint venture partner at CPS. I came to Chicago in the summer of 2000 to help open CPS as the Thompson Hospitality joint venture representative. I ended up staying permanently and moved over to the Chartwells payroll and my decision to do this was based on what I considered to be the important work that we were doing here in Chicago.
3) What do you do on a typical day? I’m not sure if there really is such a thing as a typical day. I typically start my day in the office at 7:00 AM answering emails and catching up on anything that I need to. I meet with my team members on a regular basis to discuss anything that affects our school meal operations – nutrition and menus, student participation, marketing, minimizing food waste, cost issues, etc. The current expansion of Morning Max to the remainder of the elementary schools has been a huge undertaking and is occupying a lot of my time right now. I go out to at least two or three schools each week, unannounced, to see how our programs are being received by students. I eat at those schools I visit whether breakfast or lunch and solicit feedback from students. I have off sight meetings with principals, parents, LSC members, and typically enjoy those exchanges. It’s important for me to learn first-hand how our operations are working. I also work with several community and national organizations such as the Healthy Schools Campaign, Familyfarmed.org and School Food FOCUS, a group representing the 40 largest urban school districts in the US, trying to bring more healthful foods to students.
4) What’s the best part of your job? This is an easy question to answer, seeing hungry students enjoying the food being served to them in our school dining centers by the caring staff members of Nutrition Support Services. I also enjoy working with community groups that are dedicated to the betterment of children’s lives both here in Chicago and nationally.
5) What is your biggest challenge? It’s trying to get out the word about all of the great changes that are being made in the district by the dedicated team members in each school. A lot has changed in the last year and it will take some time for all students to try the new food selections and become familiar with the great tasting, healthier choices offered in schools.
6) Do you think there is a problem with school food and do you think there needs to be reform? The school meals program is a critical part of child nutrition in our country. More than 31 million children participate in the program every day. Everyone needs to keep in mind that the average district across the country has less than one dollar to spend on food for each lunch served. I think we and districts across the country do amazing work with that dollar and are always looking to improve what we do. We are always looking at ways of providing more healthful, more locally-sourced foods to our students.
CPS has one of the largest farm-to-school programs in the country. Our goal is to spend $2.5 million dollars this year on locally sourced and produced fresh and frozen produce. We are working on a project now that will bring raw chicken into Chicago Public Schools next year which we will prepare on-site. We are working with the USDA to source enough of this chicken to serve on our menus at least two to three times each month. We feel that our school dining managers and cooks are ready for this next important step.
7) If a parent or teacher has a concern about the food in their school, what should they do? What if Chartwells is their vendor? They should contact Nutrition Support Services and we will be happy to address any concerns.
8) What do you want people to know about Chartwells? Chartwells is the leader in school food service in this country and abroad. We are market leaders in such areas as local procurement, sustainability, supporting local minority and women-owned businesses. We are working hard to make the best possible meals for students in Chicago.
9) What’s your wish for school food? I would hope that we continue to improve the healthfulness of foods that we offer students and can source less processed, cleaner label affordable foods and continue to be innovative in the way that we cater to our populations. We have many exciting programs that we are working on here in Chicago that will increase the acceptability of our menus by students.
10) Anything else you would like to mention? We are thrilled to be part of a community that is working to improve children’s health and academic success. But, we need more people to be part of the community that is focused on promoting healthy lifestyles. I am lucky to work with a great group of professional, caring individuals that truly want to see better for all of the students that we serve in Chicago. Everything that we do at CPS is for all of the students of CPS and must be sustainable financially.