COA food service in the spotlight

October 23, 2009 by WLKM 

The Board of Directors of the St. Joseph County Commission on Aging (COA) got a first hand look at the heart of the contracted food service it has been using for nearly a year Wednesday morning (October 21st) by taking its October meeting “on the road” to the St. Joseph County jail in Centreville.

The food service – provided by Canteen Services – was in the spotlight for approximately an hour-and-a-half as the board met with Canteen representatives and the drivers who deliver meals to senior citizens around the county, toured the kitchen where the food is cooked and prepared for distribution, and watched as trucks used in the deliveries were loaded and sent on their way.

The transition of the meal preparation portion of the COA’s food service operation – from kitchen facilities at the Sturgis Senior Center in Sturgis to a contracted arrangement with Canteen Services, utilizing the jail kitchen – was implemented on November 3rd, 2008.

Based on the exchange during Wednesday’s onsite visit, it appears that the operation is going well and achieving its goal of saving money while providing an effective food service program for seniors.

Jim McIntyre, Canteen manager for Allegan and a ROCK (Really Organized Canteen Kitchen) team manager with oversight responsibilities for several other facilities in Southwest Michigan, commented on how the St. Joseph County operation has gone. He said, “I think it’s been absolutely excellent. Considering the hiccups you have in the beginning and what goes on, you’re always going to have a few that are going to complain. That’s normal. But – out of 120,000 meals or close to that – I think we’ve probably had 50 to 60 complaints.”

McIntyre said, “I think that the partnership that Canteen has created with the jail and with COA is the way to go today because it keeps costs down for everybody and that’s what it’s all about. We’re all in this to make sure that we do the most we can for the elderly and help them along and, for the companies to make everything work, too.”

COA Executive Director Lynn Coursey noted that there’s a rebate back to the jail for use of the facility which offsets the costs of the meal production and for the COA. McIntyre said, “It’s almost an eight percent rebate back.”

McIntyre indicated that – between the jail and the COA – Canteen runs “about a thousand meals a day.”

Coursey said the COA is working with Canteen to introduce a “winter breakfast bag” beginning in December. She said, “We’re looking forward to doing that and then, next summer, we’re looking forward to doing the salad bars and, eventually, we’re going to try ‘choice meals’” that will offer seniors several menu options.

Coursey identified the benefits of the partnership with Canteen – more choices for seniors, cost containment for the Commission on Aging, cost containment for the jail, and less oversight for the Commission on Aging.

Regarding the trusties who assist in the jail kitchen, McIntyre said, “Normally, we have ten inmate workers.” He said, “These guys do the grunt work. They do the carrying, the lifting, the packing, the unpacking, putting it together for us and they’re all supervised.”

The session also revealed the important role played by drivers – not just in delivering the meals, but in their interactions with seniors.

McIntyre said St. Joseph County is “one of the very few counties that has trucks” for such food service operations. He said, “It’s amazing. For a county that’s a small county, they’re very progressive in treating – not only the elderly – but the general public with transportation and everything else.”


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