On Monday, Dec 5, Mayor Harrell and OSE staff joined Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Brent Jones at Denny International Middle School in West Seattle for a “Lunch with Leaders” event inspired by long-time Lunch Lady Doree Fazio-Young. The event showcased not only the importance of Seattle Public Schools’ (SPS) food and meal programs for students, but also gave the Seattle leaders a chance to interact directly with students while joining Fazio-Young in the cafeteria to serve lunch.
“This has been a year in the making,” said Fazio-Young. “I watched the State of the District speech, and The Mayor said he wanted to get more involved in the school district. I believed him, and I believed the Superintendent. I wrote two emails, and much to my surprise, they both accepted! I wanted them to come look into my kid’s faces, their eyes, and see what I do on a daily basis.” Doree Fazio-Young
Lunch included chicken and edamame potstickers, fried rice, Brussels sprouts and a burrito bar with locally sourced beef. Persimmons and locally grown pears were this week’s produce snacks provided through the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, a Sweetened Beverage Tax-funded partnership between Seattle Public Schools and City of Seattle Office of Sustainability & Environment offered at 16 Seattle schools.
Joining the Mayor and Superintendent at the event were Leslie Harris, District 6 School Board Director; Chris Alejano, K-12 Division Director at Seattle’s Department of Education & Early Learning; Aaron Smith, Director and Emme Collins, District Chef both from SPS Culinary Services; and OSE’s own Director Jessyn Farrell.
Mayor Harrell reflected on how school food that’s nutritious and purchased from local farmers and producers can circulate love within our communities and fulfills students “souls and minds, showing where our systems are working” locally. SPS Culinary Services Director Aaron Smith spoke about the importance and commitment of the SPS meal program in sharing culture through good food and respecting Seattle students’ diverse backgrounds through culturally specific school food and menus.
“Lunch with Leaders” also displayed how OSE’s collaboration with SPS through the city’s grant-funded partnership provides funding and assistance to SPS Culinary Services to create fresh meals that are locally sourced, sustainably produced, scratched cooked, and culturally diverse. OSE works with SPS through partnerships to increase student participation in school meal programs, increase youth access to fresh produce, improve student health and education, and invest in environmental sustainability and racial equity through food procurement. OSE’s funding helps improve school meals and food education by supporting:
- A Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program, which provides fresh produce snacks at 16 participating schools with high free & reduced lunch rates,
- SPS Culinary Services to source more lunch ingredients from local, environmentally sustainable food producers, focusing on BIPOC-owned food businesses.
- SPS Culinary Services to provide kitchen staff trainings, engagement with students and other community stakeholders who care about improving school food, and improved outreach and promotion about school meals.
The Mayor and Superintendent’s visit also highlighted the ongoing steps that SPS Culinary Services leadership and staff are taking to reduce food waste. In the last few years, even during the pandemic, SPS staff made significant efforts to improve and transform school meals in Seattle, especially in response to student and community feedback and input. SPS serves an impressive 25,000 meals per day to SPS students, at least 31% of whom are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches. SPS has continued COVID-era universal free meals in many schools across the district this school year. For some students, school lunch is their only meal of the day, making it especially important for those meals to be high quality and responsive to student needs, values, and cultures.