Since Nevada City School of the Arts (NCSA) opened their school kitchen in 2019, Food Program Director Dre Maher has been a trailblazer, and indeed, a local food heroine, nourishing NCSA students with wholesome meals even in the most unpredictable times.
“My goal is to serve children the freshest whole foods as possible. I think that’s the best way to have a successful education and a happy life.”
To start, Dre has used her creativity and passion to make delicious, scratched cooked meals for her students – sourcing heavily from local and regional organic farms. The “Nourish NCSA” food program features items like garlic & dill chicken salad pita, pinto bean & veggie burrito, kale pesto pasta, and includes sides like locally made organic hummus with locally grown carrots, organic kiwis and satsuma mandarins from regional farms.
The Pandemic Hits
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, “That was the end of school meals for a while” recalls Dre. “We took everything we could from our kitchen, made it into meals, and passed it out to our families as they came to the drive-through to get supplies to start distance learning.” She donated what she couldn’t use to the Nevada County Food Bank.
Later that school year, Dre began making to-go lunches, so that kids in the free and reduced lunch program could still have access to quality lunches at home. Then she noticed, several months into the pandemic, that the number of families on the free and reduced lunch program climbed up to 50% – 60% of the student population. “When I saw that, I enrolled NCSA in the school breakfast program, so we could also offer breakfasts to these families in need”. Once school started back up in the fall, Dre and her team began offering 10 meals for pick up, twice a week, to these families. Because Dre was sourcing fresh veggies directly from local farmers and the BriarPatch Food Co-op produce department, the food stayed fresh and delicious.
“Don’t Worry About Having a Great Plan”
In February, NCSA reopened for in-class instruction, and Dre and her team have pivoted to an elaborate lunch schedule to serve on-campus meals in shifts to small, socially distanced groups of students, on top of providing to-go lunches for other distance-learning students. Throughout the pandemic, Dre has not wavered from her focus on scratch-cooked meals with local and organic ingredients. “Every week is different,” Dre reflects, “it’s impossible to plan, because there is always some change, like an employee has to unexpectedly stay at home with her kids, or one of our hybrid cohorts has to suddenly shift to distance learning.” Dre has even delivered school meals to a parent at work who couldn’t make the pick-up time. When asked how she manages to pull it all off, she says “You just ask yourself, what’s the thing you need to be doing right now? Do that! Don’t worry about having a great plan. Be flexible.”
Indeed, great advice to all of us in unpredictable times! We applaud Dre for her passion and commitment to nourishing kids with the highest quality food possible at NCSA.