About starting an after-school supper program, for Gail Sharry

New London Public Schools starts after-school supper program.

In January Gail Sharry, foodservice manager at 3,000-student New London Public Schools in Connecticut, started an after-school supper program. Sharry talked to FSD about the program and the relative ease she had starting it.

Q. What did you have to do to be able to set up the after-school supper program?

This was a new thing offered to the schools. You were eligible if you hade 50% or more of your kids who qualified for free and reduced-priced meals. The after-school supper could replace your after-school snack program. You could do snacks or supper, whereas in the regular child nutrition programs there was only the after-school snack program available. When I heard that this was available to the state, the state of Connecticut asked several school districts if they wanted to do it. I said, yes, we meet those criteria. We already had after-school programs in place so I talked to our superintendent and the people who ran the after-school programs and asked if they would prefer to offer the children supper and they did.

For us it was fairly easy to do. We are doing this in conjunction with the after-school people. Instead of doing snacks I offered to do a regular dinner.

Q. Why did you decide to offer the supper program instead of the snack?

We are only doing it at our middle and high schools. I felt that a small snack—you can offer the students 6 ounces of 100% fruit juice or 8 ounces of milk, a piece of fruit or a bread component like a 1-ounce bag of crackers—I didn’t think that would be enough for the high school and middle school students. That’s when we decided we would offer them supper.

Q. How many sites are you serving supper at?

We started with one site in January. The state had to go through the training as well as us, so that was the soonest we could get set up. We added more sites in February and one in April. The parks and recreation department here has a program at its facility for after-school kids and they heard about the supper program and asked if we could come in. I called the state to find out if that was allowed and they said certainly. We serve an average of 175 students a day between the three locations. It has been really well received by both the administration and the children.

Q. Are the supper meals similar to the meals you serve for lunch?

I tried to make them a little bit different and more appealing for a supper meal. The federal requirements for the school lunch program is pretty close to what the supper program requirements are. You are supposed to give students 2 ounces of protein, at least three-quarters cups of vegetables, an 8-ounce serving of milk and a bread. We did a baked chicken with roasted sweet potatoes or asparagus, fresh fruit, milk and a dinner roll. We did lasagna with a breadstick and a salad, fresh fruit and milk. We tried to do things that people see more at nighttime.

Two of the sites we cook on site and on site we ship over.

Q. What challenges did you have setting up the supper program?

I didn’t have any challenges. My administration was very welcoming. All my principals thought it was a great idea. I’ve heard other people say there were challenges.

I know for the children I serve here they are very appreciative of it and they really look forward to it. It’s another meal that they might not get at home. I guess the biggest issue for some districts that have called me is about the union labor. I think there is a way that you can do that. If you sit down and talk with the union it can be done. For my staff I posted positions for that afternoon shift. It’s another program so it’s another shift. I am not union, but I’ve worked with other accounts that were union and I don’t think that’s a stumbling block. I think if you sat down with them, it’s such a great program that I think everybody could come to an agreement.