Food co-op saves schools $20,000

December 13, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Participation in a food cooperative has already saved the school system $20,000, according to Gary Dodds, supervisor of food and nutrition services for the Washington County Board of Education.

Food service administrators across the state formed the cooperative to lower costs for individual school systems. The School Board signed an agreement to join in August 1998 and participated for the first time this year along with 11 other counties.

End of November financial data shows food costs were about $20,000 less than the same time last year, Dodds said. At that rate, he said the food and nutrition services department could save as much as $60,000 this year.

"We'll have to wait and see," he said.

The food services budget is separate from other school departments because it raises its own revenue. The annual budget, including labor costs, is about $4.5 million. The school system's annual food cost is $1.75 million, according to Dodds.


The cooperative enables school systems to jointly request and award bids for purchasing and distributing meal supplies. Leadership of the coalition rotates among members and Charles County is this year's lead agent.

Food directors from each county met to order favorite or preferred products. As a result, schools are getting different items.

"We're seeing some other benefits in that we're getting some more variety," Dodds told the School Board last week.

"Kitchen managers are happy because they are getting fewer deliveries," he said. In the past, three or four major distributors made deliveries, but now there is only one. That means vendors do not interrupt operations during the week, Dodds said.

Last April, the board considered not joining the cooperative. All counties were originally expected to join but only half participated, causing concern that the cooperative might not result in the expected financial savings.

But the board voted to join, and Dodds said it's been worth it. "It's all working out very well so far," he told the board.

To remain part of the cooperative, the board must vote next year to continue its contract.

Dodds also reported that a new afternoon snack program is successful. Students at Hancock, Bester and Winter Street elementary schools are getting free snacks during after-school activities.

The United States Department of Agriculture pays for the program, which targets needy kids. To be eligible, more than 50 percent of a school's students must be eligible for free and reduced lunches.

"We're getting very great feedback," Dodds said.

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