Full of excitement and enthusiasm, Erwin T. Evans Sr., with Sodexo met with the Hendry County School Board on August 2 to give a first year update on their food services program. The two institutions partnered together last year to prepare and serve all students a nutritional breakfast and lunch. This program is offered for free to all Hendry County students. No application is necessary.
Mr. Evans began his presentation by summing up Sodexo’s commitment to “elevating your schools’ dining experience through proven efficiencies, fresh, visually appealing food presentation and exciting promotions - all designed to increase student participation, decrease waste and put dollars back into your classrooms.”
There are three central themes that Sodexo focuses on: People, Processes and Community. The ultimate goal of the food service program is to “provide nutritionally balanced meals of high quality and variety to students at an economical price in an attractive, appealing and friendly environment.”
People - Sodexo believes in keeping their employees engaged, empowered and accountable. Throughout the year, monthly food and safety trainings were offered, continued education of nutritional team members was provided, a chef was hired to enhance the quality of food and a registered dietician was utilized to analyze recipes. Evans also noted that they were able to maintain most of the staff while promoting 5 new managers from within. Uniforms were provided to all employees at no cost to them.
Processes – Mr. Evans then discussed the guarantee of success and a stronger financial position for the Hendry County School District. All employees hired by Sodexo have their insurance paid in full (represents a savings of approximately $1,800 per employ for the district). Employees remained at their wage and will receive a 3 percent raise this school year. Investments in marketing and cafeteria décor have freshened the look of each lunchroom. Sodexo also held the 1st Annual Future Chef’s Competition that turned out to be a great success. All employees have access to Sodexo Link giving them access to direct deposit, savings bonds, 401K retirement plans, educational assistance and vendor discounts. Breakfast participation increased by 5.61 percent, lunch participation increased by 16.56 percent, snacks increased by 1.58 percent and adult lunches increased by 30.81 percent.
Community – Sodexo strives to make a positive impact across the community. They have provided annual wellness fairs and student culinary competitions, ensured that the children of Hendry County do not go hungry by donating $1,000 each year to a backpack food program, provide two $2,000 scholarships annually to graduates who want to further their education as well as offer students mentorships and job training opportunities in part-time apprentice positions. Sodexo ensures an eco-friendly, safe and healthy working environment. At Christmas, each employee received a 12lb. turkey. Mr. Evans beamed as he talked about how Sodexo partnered with Sherry Hanes, an employee at LaBelle High School, to provide a memorable Christmas to a local family in need. Her efforts were recognized and she was awarded an Honorable Mention for Sodexo’s Heroes of Everyday Life Award. She received a $1,000 grant to donate to a charity of her choice. Along with donating over 150 cases of food to local food banks, over $100 was raised by Sodexo’s Stop Hunger Foundation.
Mr. Evans realizes that there were a few areas where Sodexo fell short. He admits that annual surveys were not sent out and that some mobile devices were not integrated this past year. These are issues he plans to address and correct in the upcoming school year.
Where does Sodexo go from here? Mr. Evans has a plan to provide an A-Z fruit and vegetable bar (tying the fruit or vegetable to a letter of the alphabet), catering services for the schools, lunch menus in Spanish for elementary schools and much more!
So far students, parents and school staff appear to be pleased. School Board Member Stephanie Busin stated that the feedback she has seen on social media has shown “overwhelmingly positive reviews about the food offered.” She commended Mr. Evans and Sodexo for their accomplishments.
The presentation was wrapped up with Mr. Evans assuring the school board that he “will help 100 percent to do whatever it takes to move this program forward.” He then presented 3 checks totaling $5,000 to the Hendry County School Board. LaBelle High School and Clewiston High School will each receive $2,000 for their scholarship fund. The other $1,000 will be donated to Operation Backpack, ($500 for each side of the county), which offers food assistance to families in need.