Winton Woods Food Service takes it to the next level

The Winton Woods City School District (WWCS) had already taken a novel approach to summer meal distribution with their Nutrition is the Mission bus, a refurbished school bus that started delivering meals to students in the summer of 2018. This year, the bus received a complete makeover, turning it into a food truck/bus that prepares and serves a free hot lunch to 100 to 200 children a day.

What’s new on the bus?

Adult male wearing an apron cooking at a flat top grill chicken and corn on the cob.

The bus is now equipped with a pizza oven, flat top grill, char grill, refrigerator/freezer, cold and warm wells, a three-compartment sink, and a service window. WWCS Food Service Director Mark Docter has a background in restaurants and has designed several kitchens, so he was able to decide what equipment was needed and where it should all go.

How does the summer lunch program work?

Summer meals are part of USDA’s Summer Food Service Program that provides free lunch to children. This year, the WWCS program runs on weekdays from June 5 to July 28. Anyone 18 and under is eligible for a free meal, while adults pay $4.00.  

Woman smiling looking out of service window on bus.

The Nutrition is the Mission bus goes to Central Park in Forest Park on Mondays and Wednesdays; Green Hills Community Building on Tuesdays and Fridays; and Winton Woods Lake on Thursdays.  

In addition to the bus, WWCS also has a van that delivers prepared, individually-wrapped lunches for children on weekdays at Quinn Chapel and Forest Chapel in Forest Park.  

What’s on the menu?

With the new setup, everything is made to order, just like a regular food truck.  

On the day WeTHRIVE! visited the bus at Winton Woods Lake, the menu included grilled chicken sandwiches, turkey subs, grapes, grilled corn on the cob, and potato salad.  

Paper plate with grilled chicken sandwich, grapes, and grilled corn on the cob.

Mark and his crew say the most popular menu items this summer have been the hamburger, cheeseburger, grilled chicken, meatball sub, and philly cheesesteak.  

Meals include milk, but there is also a dispenser with water flavored with different fruits chosen by the bus crew. They’ve had lemon, strawberry, cucumber, and orange.  

One crew member takes orders that are passed up to the service window. It doesn’t take long for food to appear. Children take it to a park bench or picnic table to eat.  

Table set up in front of bus, holding water dispenser, napkins, and condiments.

Who comes for lunch?

Children of all ages stop by the different locations. Central Park is consistently the busiest, due in part because the high school football team practices nearby and players come get lunch from the bus. Some daycare providers in the area bring the children they care for and others come with parents or grandparents.  

Boys and adult standing in front of nutrition is the mission food bus.

All of the sites are near playgrounds and there are often activities going on in conjunction with lunch. The Green Hills location is next to the Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library. Librarians will come outside to do activities with the kids who are eating lunch. For example, one day they had a huge Jenga game going on that the kids loved.  

How does it work at Winton Woods Lake?

Winton Woods Lake is part of Great Parks of Hamilton County, which usually requires a motor vehicle permit to enter the park. Mark says that Great Parks was very accommodating when he approached them with the idea of bringing the Nutrition is the Mission bus to Winton Woods Lake.  

Great Parks provides free admission to the park on Thursdays when the bus is there. Families just need to know a password, which they find on the school website. Great Parks also donated 50 annual motor vehicle permits, which will be given away in a raffle.  

Did you know? Hamilton County residents with a valid food assistance card (Ohio Direction Card or Ohio EBT card) can receive a free annual Motor Vehicle Permit for Great Parks (find more info here).

How is it going?

The response to the new bus has been overwhelmingly positive. The crew working the bus say everybody loves it – “it’s fun for the kids and it’s fun for us.” One employee talks of how serving kids and seeing them having so much fun “fills my heart.”

Top photo – The Nutrition is the Mission Bus Crew, from left: Rob Reynolds, Denise Maddox, Mark Docter, Susie Songer, Natalie Jackson, Charles Hudson.

The Winton Woods City School District has been part of the WeTHRIVE!℠ School Initiative since 2018.