BY KATE PERKINS
Brenda Anderson graduated from Pine River High School. Now, after many years as food service director and more than 30 years working in PR-B schools, she calls her retirement a second graduation.
“I think it’s time I graduate again,” she said.
She’s seen the PR-B lunch program through many changes and helped it grow into what it is today.
Her first job in the food service department was washing dishes in 1981. From there, she held a few different positions before being made food service director in 1987.
When she started, the program was for lunch only with just one line. High school and elementary students were served the same meal. At that time, all elementary students had a morning milk break.
Salary at that time for a short hour staff person (2.5 hours) was $2.68 an hour, Anderson told the school board recently as she offered her resignation and a brief history of the program.
Today, the lunch program has two lines, an a la carte option and vending machines. Between 750 and 800 lunch meals are served daily.
Anderson remembers one year that lunch was served in three different places — the Pine River elementary, Pine River High School and Backus school. Food was transported by van to the schools every day to feed the students until the new commons area was completed at PR-B school.
With the commons area came the addition of breakfast in both Backus and Pine River. The milk break was eliminated, something Anderson said got some community members going. Anderson said that with breakfast in the morning and lunch beginning fairly early in the day, the milk break didn’t seem necessary.
She heard that a collection was being taken at a local establishment, but never saw any collection money.
In 2009, the program added another breakfast line. Anderson said her team serves around 450 students a day for breakfast; it’s the largest breakfast program she knows of.
Breakfast is free to PR-B students. Anderson said the school has roughly a 65 percent free or reduced lunch population, making free breakfast a possibility.
Though the schools offer breakfast for free, Anderson has still been able to keep PR-B’s lunch program in the black financially. In fact, the program has been forced to spend money because of laws stating only three months of operating costs may be saved up at a time.
When extra money was spent, it was used to buy new equipment.
Anderson attributes her ability to keep the lunch program in the black to her interest in business, which was apparent to her early in school.
“Business was my major interest in school, I just didn’t know it would be food business,” she said.
The most recent challenge her department faced was the new federal nutritional guidelines. The guidelines lay out how much of different varieties of vegetables must be served every week. They also limit bread and protein in favor of fruits and veggies.
“I think they (the guidelines) mean well, but I think they’re happening too fast,” Anderson said. “There’s been huge changes (in the past), but they’ve happened over a long period of time.”
Anderson said that when she first brought in carrots and broccoli, students wouldn’t touch them. Now, they’re more receptive. Kale and beans are new challenges.
“They’re not difficult to serve, but to get them (students) to eat it, that’s the challenge,” she said.
Overall, though, she said students at PR-B have been very accepting of new foods.
Anderson feels good about getting the ball rolling on the new guidelines, and feels she has things set up for whoever will take over her position.
Though she hasn’t made firm plans for her retirement, she’s looking forward to it.
“I’ve enjoyed it. I have a good crew to work with, and I enjoy the challenge. I have enjoyed working behind the scenes as support staff,” Anderson said.