Lunch has a whole new meaning at Litchfield High School this year.
In an effort to give students more healthy food options — and to improve its food service bottom line — Litchfield Public Schools created a Grab & Go Lunch program that offers a variety of wraps and salads, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables.
The district created a Grab & Go Breakfast two years ago and witnessed an increase of about 200 percent in student participation in school breakfast. This inspired the emergence of Grab & Go Lunch, according to Jesse Johnson, the school district’s business manager.
“As far as the Grab & Go Lunch, that’s probably increased our participation, from early figures, by about 24 percent right now,” Johnson said. “And the word is getting out. More and more kids are starting to utilize it. We have a lot of kids go through there. And it all depends on what they’re serving for the hot lunch.”
The school's regular lunch will have a wider variety of options throughout the year, which includes hot items. But the Grab & Go Lunch offers a variety of freshly made salads and sandwiches such as chicken Caesar salad, southwest chicken salad, oriental chicken salad, zesty Italian wrap, chicken bacon ranch wrap and buffalo chicken wrap.
"The Grab & Go option was designed not to be complicated, but to be easy, convenient, and healthy," Johnson said. “(School administrators) might soon add a soup option with breadstick this winter."
With the high school’s open lunch policy, juniors and seniors can leave the building to eat at fast food and convenience stores, and the Grab & Go Lunch seeks to address that freedom component by offering students healthy food options and keeping them on campus.
Sophomore Janelle Lopez said eating a Grab & Go Lunch gives her more time to do her homework.
“Last year was just, you had lunch in the lunchroom, and you couldn’t come out,” Lopez said. “But here now, you can eat anywhere.”
Brian Cannon, senior, decided to go to McDonald's with his friends on a recent day, but he said the Grab & Go Lunch is a good option.
“I had the Grab & Go yesterday,” he said. “We just decided to get McDonald’s today… I say, you stop spending money on McDonald’s and go spend whatever a normal lunch would cost at the Grab & Go, because it’s actually really good food.”
“The school food service staff has put a lot of work into making this happen,” said Lesli Mueller, the district’s director of child nutrition. “And they are just as excited as the students having another lunch line at the high school for more options.”
Those options could help reverse a trend of declining food service revenue, too. School lunch revenue has fallen below budgeted amounts each of the past four school years since 2016-2017, with the 2018-2019 revenue of $804,931 coming up about $45,000 short of expenses.
The food service fund is independent of other district funds, Johnson said, with revenue used specifically to fund feeding students, purchasing equipment and paying staff. And so far this year, with Grab & Go Lunch seemingly playing a role, revenue has increased.
“I looked at the revenues at the high school, for the first 10 days this year vs. the first 10 days of last year, our revenues are up like $1,800,” Johnson said.
Johnson said he hopes that the Grab & Go Lunch will evolve into something bigger. For example, recently, the school’s food service started catering to sports teams.
“Because right now, we have a lot of our teams… they’ll send a parent to Subway and get sub-sandwiches, and then parents have to go do that,” Johnson added. “(They) pick it up and bring it back to have it at the bus when they leave. So now, we’ve created an order form that goes out to coaches, and they fill it the night before. The kids could pick what they want, and then we’ll cater it… we’ll have it ready for them… at the end of the day before they hop on the bus.”
George Dennehy knows something about obstacles.
Orphaned as an infant because he was born with no arms, he overcame his difficulties by learning to use his feet instead. Dennehy brought his inspirational message to Litchfield middle and high school students on Oct. 1.
“So my mission was to — or my hope really was to — go there and just really show (students), you know, whatever you’re dealing with, you can overcome,” Dennehy of Richmond, Virginia, said. “You can get through it. Your struggles don’t last forever. Don’t let your challenges, don’t let your obstacles, kind of get in your way of achieving whatever goals you have, because you get one life. Make the most of it, take chances.”
Dennehy travels throughout the United States giving motivational speeches and playing music. Dennehy made a point of how he travels lightly. He flies around the country alone, so he organizes his travels such that he wouldn’t have to bring his guitar.
“I play piano and the cello,” Dennehy said, talking about learning how to play different instruments. “I’ve been playing music since I was little. I picked up the cello when I was seven years old. I started taking music lessons with a teacher who helped me figure out how to learn and how to play with my feet. From the cello I wanted to try out different instruments, and guitar was one of the instruments I wanted to try, because guitar is universally is cooler.”
Dennehy recounted instances when people asked him, “Do you miss having arms, do you want arms?”
“I was like, it doesn’t make a difference to me,” he said. “I’ve never had them. Same goes to people who’ve asked me if I’d try prosthetics. It just doesn’t appeal to me, because prosthetics are great for people who’ve lost a limb and get that limb back. But for me, having a prosthetic is having a brand-new limb I’ve never had.”
In 2017, Dennehy shared on TED Talks his experience growing up without arms, and how kids treated him in school causing him to hate himself. But he didn’t lose hope, he said.
“Just because I don’t have arms doesn’t mean that I can’t fulfill my dreams,” he said on TED Talks. “Just because I’m different, it doesn’t mean that I’m less. I realized that I have my family who are there to support me. I have my faith that gives me purpose and hope. And if I choose it, I have a fight and a will to persevere any circumstances.”
Amid many improvements and added amenities at Memorial Park in recent years, there has remained one stubborn annoyance.
The parking lot.
Litchfield City Council decided Monday night, at the suggestion of Administrator David Cziok, to try to address the parking lot, which is largely unpaved and pothole-filled.
“Staff has been looking at the parking lot for quite some time,” Cziok said Monday, elaborating on a memo in the City Council’s agenda packet.
The Memorial Park parking lot has been on the City Council’s “wish list” for more than a decade and “with numerous improvements to this park over the last several years, the desire to improve this parking lot has only increased,” the memo stated.
The park has seen additions such as a restroom and changing room facility, a large community-built playground structure, and a splash pad, all of which have increased the number of people using the park — and the need for parking.
The trouble is, the parking lot is large, and it’s a bit of an engineering challenge, given its proximity to the shore of Lake Ripley and a high water table.
Estimates to pave the parking lot, Cziok said in his memo, have been in the $500,000 range, “with no promises as to life expectancy.”
So, Cziok said, the public works staff has devised a more affordable plan to try to improve the lot. It will mean removing 6 to 12 inches of gravel and replacing it with fresh class 5 gravel, then top that with crushed blacktop. This test would be done on 80 feet along the south edge of the park.
This type of surface has “worked well” in other places in the city, and “might be a significant improvement in this location,” Cziok wrote. The cost of this experiment is estimated at $35,000 to $40,000.
“We don’t really know until we get into the work exactly what the cost is going to be,” Cziok said, but if it looks like cost will rise significantly above the estimate, work will stop and another option sought.
“It is a worthy experiment,” Cziok said.
Council members were generally supportive of the plan, but Ron Dingmann asked if removing 6 to 12 inches of gravel would be enough. Mayor Keith Johnson also asked if tiling might help move water out of the parking lot and preserve the surface.
Cziok said other options are possible, but they would carry significantly more cost. So the smaller-scale, lower impact approach of the suggested plan was deemed the best initial approach.
“I think for what we’ve done out there for improvements, we need to try something,” Council member Vern Loch Jr. said.
The rest of the City Council agreed, unanimously approving the test, which public works staff would like to complete this fall, Cziok said, “and see how effective it is over the next year or so.”
Funding for the work and materials will come from the city’s Community Improvement Fund.