OKEECHOBEE — Local dairy farms around Okeechobee banded together to thank food service workers in the Okeechobee County School District for their effort in making sure kids are still served breakfast and lunch.
How did Okeechobee dairies thank food service employees? By gifting them one of the hottest tickets in town — Milking R Dairy ice cream.
Milking R’s ice cream has been routinely selling out in minutes when new batches are posted to the Milking R Ice Cream fan club on Facebook. The online group has grown to well over 3,000 members in only a few weeks. Those who have been lucky and quick enough to grab a few pints of their own have said the homemade ice cream has lived up to the hype.
The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Regional Extension Agent Coleen Larson had been working with local school food service employees to help deliver lunches to the children who live out on the dairies in Okeechobee. Oftentimes the parents of those children were busy working during the scheduled pickup time for school lunches, so Mrs. Larson offered to personally help deliver the school lunches to those families. She estimates that she delivers around 270 lunches to dairies per day.
Recognizing their hard work
Through that work, Coleen saw firsthand the effort the food service employees were putting into their job in the midst of the pandemic. Mrs. Larson got together with a few dairies around Okeechobee to see if they wanted to help chip in to recognize that hard work.
With restaurants working on a limited basis and theme parks and cruise lines closed, school lunch programs were one of the few left still ordering dairy products and keeping local farmers from losing even more money during this crisis. So the dairies were on board to help contribute something to the staff of the food service department in the Okeechobee school district.
“With all of the craziness that has surrounded Milking R Ice Cream,” said Mrs. Larson, “I thought what better thing to honor our food service workers with than something that nobody can get their hands on.”
Around 9 a.m. on April 21, Colleen along with Milking R’s Kris and Lindsay Rucks surprised food service workers at Okeechobee High School with three coolers full of their hard-to-get ice cream.
Okeechobee Schools Food Service Director Lisa Bell had an idea something was coming when Mrs. Larson approached her wanting to know how many people worked in her department.
“Colleen texted me a few days ago looking for the numbers of what we had in the department,” explained Mrs. Bell. “So I kind of had a little feeling something was going on. But still, this is quite the surprise. And everyone is head-over-heels because so many people have tried and tried to get this ice cream and can’t. This is awesome. We’re so excited.”
‘So important to a lot of kids’
When the coolers were opened in the OHS cafeteria, food service workers gathered around to take pictures and pick out their flavors.
“We just want to commend these ladies for everything they do,” said Kris Rucks. “School lunches are so important to a lot of kids.”
The food service program has recently added breakfast to their deliveries as well, meaning kids are getting two meals with every delivery.
“The community has been so grateful because they were loving lunch as it was, but with breakfast already there for the next morning it is just that much more convenient,” concluded Mrs. Bell.