Kimmie Heisler, a lunch cook at Concord High School, calls herself ‘a cashier and a nice lady.’ Her exuberant personality and kind spirit are two of the many winning qualities she and others bring aboard the BrandyDine Food Bus that’s serving youth in lower-income neighborhoods this summer throughout the Brandywine School District.
“I love my job, and I love this school bus,” says Heisler. “And I love their (the kids’) happy little smiles. Oh, it just makes my day.”
Paid for by a USDA summer feeding program, the Brandywine School District (BSD) launched the mobile kitchen and food bus last year as a unique way to offer nutritious meals to 300 children daily who don’t have access to school lunches during the summer. Eligible children aged 3-18 eligible receive the lunch at no cost.
Heisler and three other line cooks deliver fresh, hot meals to schools on a rotating basis from a retired school bus that’s equipped with refrigerators, warmers, a deli station, a steamtable, a flattop grill and a pizza oven.
When the bright blue bus decorated with smiling bananas, oranges and tomatoes rolls into neighborhoods at lunchtime, hungry children are happy and excited to place their order.
Offerings change daily aboard BrandyDine and include fresh-baked pizzas, grilled paninis, cheesesteaks and veggie burgers, sandwiches, salads, and fresh vegetables and fruit, like sliced watermelon and cantaloupe.
BrandyDine was the brainchild of BSD Food Service Director and UD grad (’82) Pam Gouge. She and her team are dedicated to making sure they serve the best meals possible to her hungry customers.
Gouge says the BrandyDine project was a labor of love and of necessity. For many summers, the district opened several schools to feed students meals, but a large number of students (especially those in need) lacked transportation to get to those schools. “Since the students couldn’t come to us, we decided to come to them,” she said.
Gouge says the retrofitted school bus with its cooking and refrigeration capabilities is a game-changer. “I wanted to bring the food hotter and better to the communities at risk during the summertime,” she said. Gouge asked Concord High School student Hannah Chillingsworth to design the bus graphics.
Matthew Moyer, a chef at the Brandywine School District, says youngsters and teens love when the lunch bus turns into their neighborhoods. “For a lot of the children in our school district during the school year, this might be the only meal they’re getting. When you take those 10 to 11 weeks off, children are not going to be meeting the nutritional needs that we give them during the school year,” he said.