At a Glance
Director of Child Nutrition Services
Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township
11,800 — Number of free breakfasts served in Wayne's K-12 classrooms every day.
79% — Percentage of students in Gasiorowski's district receiving free or reduced-rpice meals—higher than the national average.
16 — Number of production kitchens in Wayne Township; all were honored with passing health grades from a local news station.
- Retrofitted two school buses to deliver summer lunches to children in need at 25 sites in Marion County, Ind.
- Served as president of the Indiana School Nutrition Association and Mideast regional director for the School Nutrition Association executive board.
- Supports regional anti-hunger efforts as part of the Jump IN For Healthy Kids’ task force and Indy Hunger Network.
After reviewing school health inspections in Marion County, Ind., and assigning grades from A to F, Fox 59’s news reporting team approached districts with a request to tour their kitchens. For Sara Gasiorowski, the 57-year-old director of child nutrition services at Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township, the answer was easy. “I said, ‘Sure, why not?’ Later, I found out nobody else would let them come in,” says Gasiorowski, whose 16 production kitchens all received passing grades in the Fox report. “Why wouldn’t you want someone to come in and see something so positive? I love to show off our kitchens.”
Embracing transparency and open communication has benefited not only Gasiorowski’s district, but also the many peers with whom she shares her successes and strategies. “I just think that’s an aspect of the school nutrition community, in general. We want everyone to be successful,” she says. “We’re constantly talking to each other and getting ideas. ... There are no secrets between us.”
Feeding a need
School districts with a high percentage of students qualifying for free or reduced-price meals are eligible for a number of grants and programs, but it’s up to the foodservice director to identify, apply and implement them, says Katie Rogers, a former assistant to Gasiorowski at Wayne Township. With 78 percent of students on free or reduced-price meals there, “[Gasiorowski] serves more meals than anyone else in Indianapolis, and she’s not the biggest [district],” says Rogers. “She takes advantage of all those programs because her kids need it. She doesn’t let any opportunities pass her by,” including serving 11,800 daily meals through Breakfast in the Classroom.
A few years ago, Gasiorowski turned her attention to expanding the district’s summer meal program. “The continued challenge is getting kids to the programs. … Children can’t always leave their homes to go to a school site,” Gasiorowski says. “I had been researching other school districts across the United States who [used] a bus or a food truck. I thought, ‘How do I do this?’”
To find out, Gasiorowski took a field trip to Louisville to check out Jefferson County School District foodservice director Julia Bauscher’s meal-delivery buses in action. Back in Indianapolis, Gasiorowski convinced her district to provide two school buses at no charge, and her department paid $30,000 to convert the vehicles into mobile cafes with half-size cafeteria tables inside.
The buses hit the road in 2014, and this summer visited 25 locations—nine are schools and the remainder are mobile-home parks and apartment complexes. “We need to meet kids where they are,” Gasiorowski says. The bus also made a daily stop at a local library to feed children participating in the summer reading program, and a librarian rode the bus once a week to read lunchtime stories.
“They pull up, they unwind the awning, put a table up and the kids grab their food and they go up on the bus and sit at the table,” Gasiorowski says of the buses. Children choose between a hot dish or a cold sandwich with veggies. The program served 53,000 meals during about 31 days this summer, a 20 percent increase from the first year. “In our state, I guess I’m considered a large program, [but] I don’t think we’re close to reaching our potential,” says Gasiorowski. “I always want to serve more kids in the summer.”
The importance of service
Gasiorowski generously shares her knowledge and experience with others, whether that’s fellow directors she meets through her work with the Indiana School Nutrition Association, her annual class of summer interns or assistants who have gone on to become directors themselves thanks to her mentoring.
“When I first became a school foodservice director at 24 years old, Sara provided endless amounts of support,” says Betsey Willard, child nutrition director at Franklin Township Schools in Indianapolis. “She met with me and shared processes and formats that she used in her district. Many of these things didn’t exist in my district, and instead of having to reinvent the wheel, she provided me with the tools she knew would make me successful.”
It’s a practice that was instilled in Gasiorowski early on. When she arrived at Wayne in 1996, her then-secretary encouraged her to attend an Indiana School Nutrition Association meeting, and later signed her up for a conference where she met a number of area directors. “They’re the ones that encouraged me to get involved, but I also think it goes back to my parents and their community involvement,” Gasiorowski says. “My parents have a family business, and they were very involved in their community, so I learned from a pretty young age about giving back.”
Beyond her work at Wayne Township, Gasiorowski also is involved with Jump IN for Healthy Kids’ Nutrition Task Force, a group of volunteers from government and community groups working to promote healthy eating habits in central Indiana. She was president of the ISNA from 2011 to 2012 and went on to serve as the Mideast regional director for the School Nutrition Association executive board from 2013 to summer 2015 as well as chairwoman of SNA’s regional directors for the past year.
“Sara is very passionate about our industry and the important role that school meals play in the education and well-being of children,” says Michael Miller, president of longtime Wayne Township vendor SMART Temps. “[She] has attended the SNA’s annual Legislative Action Conference in Washington, D.C., where we have led our state delegation in lobbying our senators and members of Congress.”
As regional director for the SNA, Gasiorowski is most proud of her work establishing a new strategic plan and developing the governance structure for the association as a whole as well as assisting states with their individual strategic planning. “I think I was able to give back to the organization, but I think what they gave me in return was so much greater,” she says.