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‘Panther Paws’ is Her Passion

“I love my job,” says Kathy Faust, Food Service Director for Onamia Public Schools. “Any time we can feed a kid who was hungry, we’re doing something important.”

The food service program serves almost 1000 meals a day with after-school snacks to the district’s 600 kids. Onamia District does all it can to ensure that no kids are going hungry. Free breakfast is one way Kathy and her staff have shown that commitment.

After implementing free breakfast to elementary kids a few years back, the district made the decision to offer it in the high school as well, and it’s been a real success. 

High school students are able to choose what they want at the concession stand in the high school and eat it at their first class or in the atrium. This “grab and go” program has been one of the shining stars of the food service. “Fifty percent of our high school kids are getting breakfast,” she said. “From talking to other food service directors, I know that’s a good percentage.”

To Kathy, it’s a better alternative than making high school students walk to the cafeteria in the Elementary — better known these days as “Panther Paws Café.”

When the high school cafeteria was closed with the recent remodeling project, Kathy and her staff decided a new name was needed. “Panther Paws” seemed the perfect fit, and it’s caught on.

For Kathy, it’s all about offering healthy choices to students. Her staff prepares and offers a salad bar at lunch almost weekly, and they provide healthy snacks of fruits and vegetables in the afternoon for gades K-5. They encourage kids to try new foods, and she can tell it’s catching on. Foods like cantaloupe, honeydew and pineapple are too expensive to serve with lunch, due to serving size requirements, but the snack program comes from a different funding source, giving Kathy more flexibility to introduce new foods.

“I really do feel that it’s changed the way kids eat the fruits and vegetables now,” Kathy said. “Every kid who wants it can get it, and that makes a big difference. They see others eating it, so they give it a try.”

Those afternoon snacks are important, especially given the size of the district. “A lot of our kids ride the bus a great distance and are here for a long time,” said Kathy. 

Kathy knows that from experience. She lives in Hillman and learned the food services business by working at a grocery store and then running a kitchen at a day care center.

She feels grateful that she’s been able to work where her three kids attended school. The youngest graduated last year. “Last fall was the first time in 25 years I didn’t send somebody to school on the first day of school,” said Kathy.
   
Author: Doug Hoffman   E-Mail: dhoffman@onamia.k12.mn.us