Thomas Ben, Children’s Hunger Alliance School & Summer Nutrition Manager for Southwestern Ohio, presents Hillsboro City Schools food service director Jessica Walker with  a Child Nutrition Award. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
Thomas Ben, Children’s Hunger Alliance School & Summer Nutrition Manager for Southwestern Ohio, presents Hillsboro City Schools food service director Jessica Walker with a Child Nutrition Award. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
Food service director Jessica Walker announced an expansion of the Hillsboro City Schools summer meal program, including a revamped vehicle and nine new sites, during the HCS Board of Education meeting Monday, May 16.

As the HCS Tomahawk food truck enters its fifth year providing free summer meals — as well as feeding children during the state-mandated closures last year at the start of the pandemic — the district is going to add another vehicle this year. Walker and superintendent Tim Davis said that one of the district’s buses is going to be repurposed into another type of food truck, which they’ve dubbed the “Juice Box.”

“The Juice Box is going to be our new summer vehicle,” Walker said. “That kind of just happened within the last like seven days.

“I think the Juice Box is going to get us to those people that couldn’t get to us before. I think we’re really going to hit the ones that are disadvantaged that might not have means of travel.”

Free breakfast and lunch for children 18 and under will be offered Monday through Friday, June 1-Aug. 6. This year’s schedule includes:

• Tomahawk: HCS Central Office, 10:45 a.m.; Highland Heights, 11 a.m.; Cedarwoods, 11:30 a.m.; Liberty Park shelter, noon; the Paint Creek fire station on East Street, 1:15 p.m.; and Rocky Fork North Beach, 2 p.m.

• Juice Box: Hillsboro Estates, 10:30 a.m.; Hi-Land Terrace, 10:45 a.m.; Red Barn North Shore, 11:30 a.m.; Highland Holiday (Cathy Circle), 11:45 a.m.; Highland Holiday B (Inverness Court), 12:15 p.m.; Greater Life Assembly, 12:30 p.m.; Marshall Community Center, 1 p.m.; Berrysville township building, 1:30 p.m.; New Market township building, 2 p.m.; Highland County Fairgrounds, 2:30 p.m.; and Hillsboro Swim Organization, 3 p.m.

Also scheduled for food truck stops are Peace Lutheran Church on Wednesdays only from 11-11:50 a.m.; the Hillsboro Church of Christ from June 1-4 at noon; and Boy Scouts Camp from July 26-30, 11 a.m.-noon.

Meals are also being offered at the high school, with breakfast beginning at 8 a.m. and lunch from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.

“We’re bringing in nine new sites this year, and technically 10 if you count that we’re bringing back the high school site,” Walker said.

Walker said she’s consulted with the district bus drivers for feedback on areas with a large number of kids who might be able to use the service.

She added that although the district may not be able to “sustain all of the” new sites in this year, they are using this year to gauge where there is interest to better plan for the future.

“This year is the year where they’ve extended all the waivers,” Walker said. “This will show us where the participation’s going to be, and then next year we can break it down. We’re only at some places for 15 minutes, and that’s not logically going to be able to work all the time, especially if the kids have to sit down and eat.”

Walker said her goal this summer is to add another 160 kids served, which would raise their average to 700 children and 1,400 meals served each day.

“I’m really excited about the changes [Walker’s] made, the new Juice Box vehicle that we have,” Davis said. “I can’t say enough about her and her staff and the things that they’ve done. It’s just awesome for our community and awesome for our kids to have those meals on a daily basis.”

Board member Jerry Walker asked to clarify the food service schedule for Hillsboro High School over the summer.

“This year, because of the waivers, I could give breakfast until noon,” Jessica Walker said. “You don’t have a set time for breakfast. But we’re trying to capture summer school, we’re trying to capture basketball shootouts, we’re trying to capture camps.”

Jerry Walker also asked if there is “opportunity for activities” to occupy students between the breakfast service time at the high school and the lunch service.

Jessica Walker said they “haven’t in the past” because the students who use the meal service at the high school are generally “coming for something else,” like one of the aforementioned camps or other activities. She added that before the pandemic, they have had organizations host activities at other food truck stops.

“Jessica has done a great job of reaching out to all the coaches,” Davis said. “She’s trying to feed our athletes and kids that are in the building.

“Most of the time, our high school is filled with kids in and out between those hours of 8 and 12, and having that breakfast and lunch is a huge advantage for our kids to be able to eat before or after a practice. She has done an outstanding job.”

Later in the meeting, the board approved the purchase of a 30-passenger school bus from Ohio Cat for $62,573, to replace the bus being used for the Juice Box.

Instead of purchasing a new van as originally planned, Davis said they decided to purchase a new 30-passenger school bus and renovate one of the district’s current 30-passenger buses.

“It actually gives us more square footage inside to put in the warmers and heaters,” Davis said. “This bus was probably going to have to be shuffled out in the next two years, so with that, we decided to take the bus that we have and we’re going to revamp it.

“We’re going to be purchasing a new 30-passenger bus that would have been a year or two down the road, instead of going out and buying a van, brand-new, for $44,000. It was going to be a little smaller.”

The bus that the district will be using for the Juice Box has 160,000 miles and “a lot of life left for the summer feeding program,” Davis said.

Board member Larry Lyons asked if the district had received “a grant to offset” some of the costs involved. Davis and treasurer Ben Teeters said that Walker had secured a $13,000 grant to put toward the purchase of a vehicle.

Board member Tom Milbery also asked about the “revamping” that needs to be done to the Juice Box bus.

“Basically, all we have to do is remove some seats,” Davis said. “They’re going to do some work as far as cutting out a serving window, but it also has a lift for them to get the materials in and out so they don’t have to carry it through there.

”All the maintenance is basically being done in-house by our bus mechanics. Hopefully within the next week, this thing will be up and ready to go. We’ve got to do some cosmetic stuff, painting it and things like that, but we’re very excited about the possibility.”

Board president Bill Myers asked if they would be “wrapping it or anything.” Walker said that they hope to eventually get that accomplished, but in the meantime they may decorate it with some decals to help “make it stand out.”

Even before the food program expansion announcement, Walker began her presentation by introducing Thomas Ben, Children’s Hunger Alliance School & Summer Nutrition Manager for Southwestern Ohio. Ben praised Hillsboro’s food service program before presenting Walker with a Child Nutrition Award.

Ben said that he works with “130 school districts in 17 counties, and this year is the first year in the four years I’ve been with the agency that we are recognizing some schools for their great work in their food service program.”

“In particular, what I’m concerned about is breakfast,” Ben said. “Breakfast is that meal each day that it just fuels a child for the school day, for morning instruction. We feel as an agency that it is a very important time to feed children, and Hillsboro has done a fantastic job in the last several years of increasing breakfast participation.

“Right, now about 86 percent of your students who have a free/reduced lunch are also participating in breakfast. The state average is right around 54 percent of the students being served breakfast in the schools, and your average pre-COVID is just under 60 percent, so you’re above average.”

Ben called the child nutrition award “a presentation of thankfulness” to Walker and the entire HCS food service staff “for what they’ve done for the students here in Highland County, and in particular Hillsboro Schools.”

“Out of the 130-plus school districts that are in my region of southwest Ohio, there are only 14 schools that are receiving this,” Ben said. “We recognize the great work that’s being done here, the summer work that’s being done, the increases that we during each school year in breakfast and also the increases in summer feeding as well. Jessica, on behalf of Children’s Hunger Alliance, I want to award you this certificate.”

Three members of Walker’s staff — Matilda Burns, Len Oxley and Stephanie Thompson — were also on hand for the presentation, and Walker highlighted the entire staff’s accomplishments over the past year.

“They haven’t stopped since March of 2020,” Walker said. “I think Christmas was our first break where I actually took a breath.

“My team is amazing, and I know they don’t hear it enough. They’re starting to get a lot of recognition, but I want to be sure you guys hear it from me, how awesome my staff is and what they’ve accomplished this year.”

Walker said that as of May 18, the district had served over 497,275 free meals since March 16, 2020.

“That’s amazing,” she said. “Our little rural school district is almost at half a million meals. I can’t be more proud, and I’m thankful for all of you guys too for supporting me on this crazy food truck journey.”

Another accomplishment, Walker added, is that 90 percent of the district lunch staff are ServSafe certified.

Myers asked if Walker had “any other dreams or focuses” for the 2021-22 school year.

“My biggest will be breakfast for high school,” Walker said. “We don’t have half the kids eating breakfast. We have tried. I have three breakfast carts. We’re doing coffee right now twice a week, we’re making sandwiches and burritos from scratch. My next goal is second chance breakfast. It was supposed to happen pre-COVID.

“I do feel like we would get more of those kids, high school middle school kids, eating breakfast if it happened after their first period class.”

Also during the food service program, Hillsboro student Kobie Miles, a state ambassador for Fuel Up to Play 60, gave a presentation. According to its website, Fuel Up to Play 60 is an in-school nutrition and physical activity program directed by the National Dairy Council and the NFL to help promote healthy living.

Miles’ PowerPoint presentation said, “The primary focus of FUTP60 is to encourage youth to eat nutrient-rich foods and achieve at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day.” That includes promoting fruits, vegetables and dairy products and different ways to incorporate exercise into students’ routines, according to Miles.

Miles gave an example of a smoothie recipe she shared with her classmates, as well as a link to the Fuel Up to Play 60 app that she encouraged classmates to visit for more information.

As one of her projects as state ambassador, Miles helped organize a fitness and dairy challenge during the month of March at Hillsboro Middle School. She started a Google Forms document to track the various exercises students completed.

Miles reported that overall, students completed a total of 2,130 jumping jacks, 1,465 squat jumps, 1,320 burpees and over 141 combined minutes of jump rope, and 100 students reported eating milk, cheese and/or yogurt daily during the month.

“I loved it, and the kids talked about it,” Walker said of the March challenge.

Also as part of her role as ambassador, Miles said she has participated in Zoom calls with other state ambassadors on a number of topics. She was also selected as a finalist in the NFL Super Kid contest, a national competition hosted by the NFL offering youths ages 6-12 a chance at participating in Super Bowl activities.

“I sent a video in, and then I got into the top eight in the United States,” Miles said. “I didn’t win, but I got into the top eight, so that was cool.”

Walker praised Miles for her service as state ambassador, as Miles said she’s participated in FUTP60 activities for three years.

“I’m super proud of you for pulling stuff together this year,” Walker told Miles. “it was a hard year to be in Fuel Up to Play 60. There were a lot of challenges.

“I’m very proud of what you’ve accomplished this year and your team, because she does have a lot of people rooting for her, especially her mom and dad. It’s really nice to see parents step in and do some of that work too that I know that they have.”

For more on Monday night’s meeting, see the story at: