Nutrition team at Norwalk Public Schools gives back through partnership with local shelter

The Chartwells K12 team at the district provides monthly meals to shelter patrons.
Norwalk chef preparing brownies
The chefs at Norwalk Public Schools prepare a meal each month for Open Doors, a local shelter. | Photo courtesy of Norwalk Public Schools

The Chartwells K12 team at Norwalk Public Schools in Norwalk, Connecticut has extended its meal service beyond the four walls of the cafeteria this school year through a partnership with Open Doors, a local shelter that feeds the greater Norwalk community.

The foodservice team first heard about Open Doors through Steven Browning, the cafeteria lead at Norwalk's West Rock Middle School, who had volunteered at the shelter in the past.  Given Open Door’s ties to the community, the team figured they would be a good organization to work with.

“A lot of our staff are a part of the community,” says Chartwells K12 Resident District Manager Angela Valentin. “With them working in foodservice they knew a lot of the families that would be benefitting from the Open Door meals.”

Chartwells K12 staff now provide meals each month to the shelter as a way to give back to the community at-large.

Looking for a volunteer opportunity

During the initial stages of the partnership, the foodservice team visited the shelter to learn more about what volunteer opportunities there were.

“We did a tour, got some background information of the facility and we checked out the kitchen and the serving process,” says Valentin.

Originally, the plan was for the team to prepare and volunteer to serve one meal a month at the shelter. Later, however, they found out that the only spot open on the calendar to volunteer to serve was in April, so they stuck to solely preparing the meals each month.

When choosing what to serve, the team makes sure that the meals are well-rounded with at least a protein, grain, veggie and dessert.

Meatball subs, baked pasta, and roasted chicken with rice and beans are just some of the entrees the team has prepared for the shelter.

“We wanted [the meals] to appeal to all ages,” says Valentin.

Launching Jeans for a Cause

While the team did donate the funds needed for the first meal that they prepared, they knew they had to come up with a more sustainable financial model going forward.

In turn, they launched Jeans for a Cause where any nutrition staff member who donates $1 each week to go toward the Open Doors meals can wear jeans to work on Friday.

Valentin worked with Chartwells Wellness & Student Engagement Manager Kelly Gruber to prepare a flyer to advertise the initiative and it has quickly become popular with the team.

“We’ve had pretty good participation,” says Valentin. “So far, we’ve raised over $500.”

Valentin says that due to the success rate of Jeans for a Cause, they’re also looking to expand the initiative next school year to include other things like a toy drive during the holiday season where employees who donate a toy can wear jeans to work.

Overall, the team has really enjoyed the partnership with Open Door, Valentin says, especially because many of the families who participate in the meals have children who are walking down the school cafeteria line each week.

“It makes it that much more sentimental,” she says. “You know you are giving back to the kids you see on a daily basis.” 



More from our partners