As record-low temperatures grip large swaths of the Midwest, foodservice operators in those areas continue to feed a variety of customers—whether they be students, patients or staff. Here’s how they’re doing it.
Having a plan
At Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, where temperatures hit minus 21 degrees on Wednesday morning, about 20% of the dining team was unable to get to work that day, says Ruth Argenta, director of foodservices for the nearly 360-bed hospital.
“Reasons vary from the extreme cold to childcare, with schools closed,” she says. “Fortunately, the management team was all able to make it in and are filling in as needed.”
When staffing becomes a concern, Argenta relies on strict prioritization. “We do have a focus on feeding the patients first, and place resources there over the hospital retail space and catering,” she says. “As needed, the services in the retail space are downsized to place those resources on our patient feeding program.”
Argenta also streamlines patient menus to take undue stress off an understaffed kitchen. Instead of serving a full room-service program as the hospital normally would, options are reduced.
At insurance brokerage Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., based in Rolling Meadows, Ill., foodservice employees arrived Wednesday to discover that the operations’ exhaust fans could not endure the minus 55 wind chill. The company’s board of directors were on-site for breakfast and lunch, so general manager Jen Schierer and executive chef Mark Gaylord problem-solved with a pasta-focused menu that could be put together sans the fans, using induction stoves, says Sodexo spokesperson Dasha Ross Smith.
Things remained business as usual at Bank of America’s Compass-run corporate cafe in Chicago, though members of the dining team were given the flexibility to come in late or make other arrangements for childcare, says Matt Caruso, district chef for national accounts. On his Wednesday menu were such dishes as cochinita pibil, cod with an achiote sauce and cauliflower rice with cilantro.
To make sure students were fed while school was closed Tuesday and Wednesday, Minneapolis Public Schools in Minnesota partnered with local parks and libraries to offer free food and warming shelters for students and families. Ten parks and libraries were participating, with nine serving food.
Many hospitals in the Chicago area are also acting as warming centers for the city’s homeless population and those with inadequate indoor heating. The emergency rooms at Chicago’s Mount Sinai Hospital and Holy Cross Hospital will function as such centers and offer free coffee and hot chocolate, according to Becker’s Hospital Review.
Students at Green Bay Area Public School District in Green Bay, Wis., who are part of the district’s weekend backpack food program were sent home Tuesday with a backpack full of food donated by local charities to help them while school was not in session Wednesday.
All Chicago colleges with dining overseen by Sodexo were serving food Wednesday, even if they had to reduce hours or the number of locations open, says Ross Smith.
Though the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison will remain partially closed through noon Thursday, the university’s dining team still celebrated National Croissant Day on Wednesday, notifying students via Twitter. However, all of its eateries will close at 9 p.m. due to the weather, it said, noting that fireplaces would be going at Gordon Avenue Market and Four Lakes Market.