September 07, 2023

Cafeterias re-equip with help from federal grant

Author: Molly Belmont
Source:  NYSUT Communications
cafeteria workers
Caption: Sandy Phillips, Site Manager for Owego-Apalachin Central School District (right) and Jessica Brown, Site Manager for Maine-Endwell Central School District (left) are cooking up new pizza recipes for their students. Owego-Apalachin purchased a new combi-oven with grant funds earlier this year. Photo provided.

This fall, cafeterias across New York are getting an upgrade, thanks to National School Lunch Program Equipment Assistance grants.

The Owego-Apalachin Central School District just purchased and installed a new combi-oven, using a $20,000 award. “We’re going to be able to get food out more quickly, and that’s going to help the lines move much faster,” said Sandy Phillips, site manager for the Owego-Apalachin district and a member of the Broome BOCES Support Services Association.

The New York State Education Department, the agency administering the federal program, awarded 482 grants totaling $4,786,638 to 149 school districts in July.

“The grant really is beneficial because schools do not have that kind of funding to buy equipment. They spend their money on labor and food, so this grant opportunity alleviates that financial burden for them,” said SED’s Tara Webster, supervisor of child nutrition. “It also allows them to buy equipment to do more scratch cooking, get more local food into their schools, and offer more variety for students.”

The Binghamton City School District, one of this year’s top awardees, received $79,023 to purchase a double-stack convection oven, two serving lines, reach-in freezer and more. “That is going to help a huge amount in their operation,” said Annie Hudock, senior food service director, Broome-Tioga BOCES. Hudock and her team support food service for 15 districts in the Southern Tier, including grant proposals. This year, she was gratified to see three of the districts receive awards.

Laurie Upright, a cook and member of the Highlands Support Association, said the equipment they purchased with $33,134 in grant monies has been “a godsend.”

“We had two serving lines, but only one food warming cabinet, so people were always running back and forth,” said Upright. “Now, we can have one cabinet on each line. This is helping keep my food temps right where they need to be.”

When it comes to food service, the right tools make all the difference, she said. “It can be intimidating if you don’t do your research.”

Districts can submit applications for the National Lunch Program Equipment Assistance through the state department of education each spring. Awards are capped at $20,000 per school, but districts can submit applications for more than one piece of equipment annually. Priority is given to districts that have not received an award in the last three years, said Webster.

For more info, visit the State Education Department's Child Nutrition Knowledge Center at