PORTAGE | In her 15 years as Portage Township Schools Food Service Director, there's been nothing that makes Jan Black happier than knowing the children she serves are happy — and well fed.
"My kitchen staff would often get notes from the kids. One of them said, 'Thank you for your mashed potatoes.' They shared it with me and it just brought me such joy. It sticks in your heart what the kids say," said Black, who is retiring at the end of the year.
Managing the food service program for the school district is no small feat. There are federal and state regulations to meet, and nutritional guidelines, budgets and storage issues to wrangle with. And, there's the children.
"Our job is to make sure those children are fed, on time, healthy, nutritious meals by a caring staff," said Black, who praised her staff for doing just that.
"We are more vigilant now than ever that these children eat, and eat well with us. We know, for some, these are the only two meals they'll eat each day," she said.
The department consists of 12 kitchens, which serve 7,500 meals each day, five days a week. That doesn't include the federally-funded summer feeding program, which serves children at several sites in the community when they aren't in school.
"No restaurant does 7,500 meals a day. It's like running 12 restaurants," she said.
Black, who also worked in the food service department for East Porter County Schools for eight years, has seen her share of changes.
"When I came here we didn't have computers," she said. That all changed.
"Five or six years ago we started serving fresh fruits and vegetables. We were ahead of the game with that initiative," she said.
"About 10 years ago we had a major change involving (government) commodities," said Black. The schools would get the food, but often the kids didn't like it.
"We made the decision to feed the kids what they liked and only what they liked," said Black, who worked with parents and students to develop a menu that would be healthy and be eaten by the students.
Black, who was the Indiana School Nutrition Association's Food Service Director of the Year in 2008 and its president in 2009 and 2010, said she's enjoyed her job, the students and her co-workers, but decided it was time to move on. She'll be traveling a bit to visit grandchildren and a sister.
She may also be back in the food service business.
"I may have the opportunity to do training statewide and nationwide," she said.