KANKAKEE — Dawn Botensten, food services director for Kankakee School District 111, began tearing up while reciting the mission of the district’s new food truck during a recent Kankakee School Board meeting.
The mission is “to bring delicious, healthy foods to all corners of our community,” and “to give students opportunities to learn and lead through the culinary arts.”
“I’m surprised I’m not crying even more,” Botensten said. “It’s just such a great opportunity for our community to be able to hit all different corners of our [community]. I have a plethora of ideas of how we can utilize this with our students.”
The district recently purchased a food truck from Chatterbox Food Truck Manufacturing in Syracuse, Ind., for $57,000 using grants provided by No Kid Hungry and the Head Start program.
The unofficial name of the district’s new food truck is Kay’s Kitchen.
Botensten said she spent six months researching features the district would need to operate its own food truck, and the company fully customized it to her specifications.
“It’s been a labor of love,” she said.
The truck includes a full, functioning mobile kitchen with generator, electricity, hand-washing sink and “anything that the health department would want us to have to keep our food safe,” Botensten said. The truck also features a flat grill, char grill, pizza oven, salad and sandwich station, cooler, and freezer.
“Literally one of my dreams is to have a food truck,” Botensten said. “And the beauty of it is, the food service department will be able to go to community areas and deliver food to students that can’t get to schools.”
She said the district plans to have the truck up and running as soon as the Kankakee County Health Department approves the district’s application and completes a final walk-through inspection.
Food service staff will operate the truck for a to-be-determined window of time during school hours Monday through Friday.
All students in the district are eligible to receive free breakfast and lunch due to the high percentage of students that qualify, so these meals will be free as well.
The truck will stop in communal areas such as parks or church parking lots for students and parents to come get meals; it will not be delivering meals door-to-door.
When planning for the 2020-2021 school year, the district expected families might have difficulties getting to school to pick up grab-and-go meals, as hybrid learning would be the primary mode of instruction while some would be fully remote.
“We felt that we could capture more of our students in the district and provide them a nutritious meal with the food truck,” Botensten said. “A lot of parents have trouble getting to the individual school, so we are going to bring the food to them.”
Daily menus will mimic the regular lunch menus at school and will likely include a sandwich, salad and hot food item.
The food service department must adhere to the same nutritional guidelines they follow for in-school lunches while operating the truck.
However, Botensten said she is willing to take requests.
“I still have to make sure that it fits the guidelines, but I’m willing to work with that,” she said. “I’ve taken restaurant-quality items and made it into food service.”
The district is also planning to bring the food truck to community events and farmers markets, where the menu would be more flexible.
If it gets health department approval in time, the district’s goal is to bring the truck to the final Kankakee Farmers Market of the season Oct. 31.
The truck could also make its way to the city’s Sandwich With a Side of Jam series.
Kankakee High School’s culinary arts program will also be involved in bringing the truck out for community for events, using it as a culinary and business learning opportunity for students, Botensten said.
The district is currently finalizing a logo to paint on the food truck; its design will be inspired by student-submitted artwork.