Denair Unified expands and updates its kitchens thanks to more than $546,000 in grants

The Food Services Department in the Denair Unified School District has a well-earned reputation for churning out plenty of tasty options each day. The quality and breadth of its menu consistently draw rave reviews from hundreds of students of all ages.

And now, thanks to more than a half-million dollars in grant money it has received, the department is focused on serving even more youngsters from its kitchens on the elementary, middle school and high school campuses.

In the past year, district officials have aggressively applied for a variety of state and federal grants to help subsidize much-needed kitchen improvements. Their perseverance has paid off, with $546,222.98 flowing into the district. That money has been put to good use.

  • At Denair High School, two double-stack convection ovens have been installed. On order are two cold box speed line units (a self-serve refrigerated unit for items such as pre-made salads), two milk boxes and a salad bar. The district is soliciting bids for a walk-in refrigerator and freezer, which will be located just outside the kitchen door.
  • At Denair Middle School, two double-stack convection ovens already are in place and a hot speed line unit is on the way.
  • At Denair Elementary Charter Academy, two retherm units have been installed and the district wants to add two salad bars and one hot speed line.

New appliances to replace obsolete ones also have been added at all three campuses. In many cases, the district has until June 2025 to spend the grant money.

“Better ovens, cold serving lines, milk coolers — these contribute to a better-tasting and more enjoyable meal,” explained Kim Fuentez, the district’s Food Services manager. “Without the funding we’ve received, we wouldn’t be able to do half the upgrades our kitchens need.”

The new equipment will allow the district to continue to grow what already is a popular food and nutrition program, which is free for all students. Between the three campuses, Denair currently serves more than 400 breakfasts, nearly 900 lunches and about 375 after-school snacks each day.

“We anticipate that we will be serving 500 meals at minimum at DECA alone with the new equipment,” estimated Daisy Swearingen, the district’s chief business official. “The new equipment would allow DECA specifically to create a more diverse menu. At DHS, the cold boxes at DHS will allow us to offer more cold meal options. At DMS, we will be able to offer actual salads (chef, sesame chicken, crispy chicken, chicken Caesar, etc.). Our kids at DMS love salad, so this will continue to expand the program.”

The Food Services Department also produces meals for Denair Charter Academy students as well as those at the Reyn Franca School across the street from the high school.

Commercial food equipment isn’t cheap. Items such as ovens, refrigerators and cold and hot serving lines can cost tens of thousands of dollars each. Smaller items, while less expensive, still add up. The beauty of the grants is that they have enabled the district to replace obsolete kitchen equipment without affecting the general fund.

“They allow the district to address immediate needs such as failing equipment without impacting the general fund, which is important because it allows the general fund to prioritize ongoing operating expenses such as employee salaries,” Swearingen explained.

For more on the Food Services team, please click on this link to a 3-minute video. It was produced using some of the grant money.

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