A Day In the Life of Elvira Ford
Food Service Coordinator
Elvira Ford has been with CEO for one year and three months as the Food Service Coordinator, before that she was working at the Boys and Girls Club of Troy in a similar position.
Elvira and her husband are both originally from Florida and moved to Troy 17 years ago. They are both connected to the community and are dedicated to improving it.
As a Troy resident, Elvira’s commute to CEO is short. She arrives at the JLB Community Resource Center and heads to the kitchen. If the menu for the day requires a little extra prep, she may arrive at 6:45, but today the breakfast is served cold, so seven works just fine.
Once she arrives, she gets the kitchen prepped for the day by turning on the ovens, getting the dishwasher running, and checking the temperatures in all the refrigerators and freezers to make sure they were working overnight.
Then Elvira gathers the food that needs to be prepped for the day, and lays it out on trays on top of the kitchen counters, ready for the next steps. A dietary aide, Natasha, arrives at 7am, and the two meet to discuss what’s coming up for the day and how best to divide the work.
Elvira takes a minute to check her email while Natasha gets started with breakfast prep. She likes to make sure nothing has come up over night that needs to be addressed, and review any order emails.
Elvira and Natasha start assembling breakfast. The CRC’s kitchen supplies meals for the classrooms in the building, and also cooks for the classrooms at CEO’s Urban Training Center and Lansingburgh FRC. Elvira also manages the kitchen at the Hoosick Falls FRC, and the Schodack FRC. The Schodack FRC also supplies meals for the Rensselaer FRC. Elvira supervises six staff across the agency kitchens, including kitchen aids/drivers, and cooks..
Breakfast this morning is cold, so the team is prepping a muffin, yogurt, fresh fruit and milk for every classroom. Two days a week the children are served a warm breakfast, which is usually something like a scrambled egg patty on a toasted english muffin with cheese and sausage and fresh fruit and milk.
Next the meals have to be distributed, and this is no small task. The CRC Kitchen supplies meals for the four classrooms in the building for a total of 48 meals, as well as 45 meals for the three classrooms in the Urban Training Center across the street, and 120 meals for the 12 classrooms at the Lansingburgh FRC.
Elvira helps with packing the insulated truck that delivers meals to the Lansingburgh FRC, helps load up and delivers the meals to the UTC, and distributes the meals to the CRC classrooms.
Elvira is back in the kitchen and cleaning up from breakfast and starting to prep for lunch.
Depending on what the menu is, Elvira may start boiling water for the pasta or making sauce for the meatballs, chopping vegetables for a tossed salad, or making garlic bread.
Beyond that lunch prep & cooking, Elvira also does a lot of multitasking throughout the day. Not only does Elvira oversee all of the kitchen staff across CEO’s centers, she creates the menus, and orders the food.
The menu is consistent across all centers, Elvira creates them monthly for the whole agency, and then the whole kitchen staff meets monthly to discuss execution. She likes to talk through things that will require more prep time, and how to split up work for more technical meals. “I try to even it out when it comes to time and preparation,” Elvira says.
Today’s lunch is spaghetti dinner with meatballs, tossed salad, a fruit cup and milk. So there’s plenty to do!
Lunch prep is done and it’s time to pack everything up! Before the COVID pandemic, CEO used to serve food in family style containers, and the teachers would distribute individual portions to the children. Now everything is packaged in individually packaged meals.
Elvira helps Natasha pack and place the hot lunches in the hot boxes before driving meals to Lansingburgh and delivering to the UTC.
It’s lunchtime across all centers, and all of the infants, toddlers, and preschoolers are happily eating.
In Lansingburgh there is a little bit of variation in what time each classroom eats because of the size of the center. Some have outside time and then eat, and vice versa, but lunchtime runs for an hour or so.
After lunch, the kitchen staff starts cleaning up, collecting bins and containers from the classrooms. Natasha picks up everything from the UTC, and Elvira collects from the CRC.
While cleanup is going on, a delivery of new food comes. While the days are scheduled for each delivery, the times are open. Elvira has to step away to inventory and check each package to make sure everything she ordered is there, and to sign the driver’s packaging slip.
Fresh produce comes twice a week, milk twice a week, and frozen foods twice a week. All of the deliveries are on Mondays and Thursdays, and Elvira places her orders on Fridays and Wednesdays. Milk is delivered directly to the centers to remove an extra step, but everything else comes to the CRC.
Elvira goes on her lunch break.
Elvira spends some time doing her documentation for the day, including: meal count tally sheets, paperwork for the fiscal department, and checks emails again. She also works on menus for the upcoming month, including virtual meals. Since a portion of enrolled children are participating virtually, they still receive meals through Head Start, but the distribution looks a little different.
Elvira’s team distributes meals for a week on the first day of the week. Lately they’ve been doing it on Friday for the upcoming Monday, to make sure the children have breakfast ready to go for Monday. Each center has a different day for pick up, and families have a two-hour time slot to pick up a week’s worth of meals. The virtual menu is different from the in person menu, because it has to be frozen or packaged to last, but it also has to meet all the same nutritional standards.
A virtual breakfast might be cereal, fresh fruit, and milk. While a lunch might be a frozen cheese pizza, juice box, fruit and milk. The menu has to allow families to keep the food safe prior to serving, so many items are frozen when distributed.
While Elvira is working in her office, Natasha is prepping for the afternoon snack. The afternoon snack includes two components: a grain or meat/meat alternative, fruit, and milk. This afternoon snack is orange wedges and animal crackers, and later this week it will be strawberries with stuffed breadsticks and marinara sauce.
The menu has to adhere to the guidelines set by the Child and Adult Food Care Program CEO partners with. The requirements dictate that the five food groups: dairy, fruit, vegetable, grain, and meat/meat alternative are met throughout the day. Three components from that list must be served at breakfast, five at lunch, and two out of the five for snack.
Snack is distributed to the CRC.
Elvira gets back on the floor to supervise and check prep that the dietary aide is working on. Usually Elvira does the main component of the meal, but will sometimes delegate depending on how the day is going. To prepare for tomorrow, they are taking anything out of the freezer that will need to thaw and put in the fridge for tomorrow, and getting sandwiches laid out on the pan for the warm breakfast sandwiches tomorrow morning.
“Pretty much everything is frozen when we buy it, so we have to factor in defrosting and cooking in the prep time,” says Elvira.
They also spend some time getting fruit ready for the next day. ”We core each apple for each child, oranges we buy whole and wedge for each child, bananas we buy whole,” she says. “There is a lot of work!”
While Natasha finishes up prep work for tomorrow, Elvira does inventory for the order she’ll place tomorrow, before doing a final walkthrough and cleaning of the kitchen.
Elvira finishes the day at her desk answering emails before heading out for the day at 3:30pm. Some days there is more prep work for the following day, so she may stay later, but today she’s out at 3:30pm.
What is your favorite part of your job?
“My favorite part of the job is walking into the classroom and hearing the kids cheer when I arrive with the food. Some classrooms have a whole routine they do with a chant “food is here” or something like that and it’s really sweet. The infants stand at the window in the classroom at the CRC, when I put the cart outside the window, it’s wonderful to see how excited they are. The kids get really excited about meal time.
There are a lot of really nice moments that make the hard work worth it. I put my heart and soul into this meal and they are ready to receive it.”