Denim and Pearls: District caters to all tastes

Scott Swanson

Of The New Era

The Sweet Home School District No. 55 Food Service staff has some snazzy new wheels to help it meet demands for its catering services.

The district has purchased a reconditioned 1994 GMC delivery van for $6,000 from the proceeds of serving three meals a day to some 300 firefighters at Lewis Creek Campground for several weeks last summer during the Middle Fork Fire. It was that experience that prompted Food Service Supervisor Milli Horton to decide that her department needed a van to help it respond to such needs.

“Last summer we ended up having to borrow a van with a lift from the (school district) Transportation Department because the Forest Service asked about food for the big fire,” Horton said. “The van was kind of dangerous. We had to ride in the back with the carts to keep them from sliding around – and the battery kept dying.”

That’s when she got the idea to get a van for the department’s catering activities.

The district has catered events for years, said Horton, who has been director for three years since replacing Pam Lessley, who moved to the Lebanon School District.

“This crew has had a lot of experience catering large groups,” she said of her staff, which prepares more than 3,000 meals a day for district students.

Those catering efforts have included last year’s Boys and Girls Club Auction, weddings, family reunions, school reunions, and birthday parties. This year the district is scheduled to cater the Chamber of Commerce Awards Banquet on March 10.

Kevin McLaughlin, director of the Boys and Girls Club, said the food for the auction was “excellent.”

“We had rave reviews from those who attended.”

Horton said she had experience doing catering privately before she took over at the school district.

“It’s a natural thing for me to continue what the high school’s done for years,” she said.

When they decided to get a van, Horton said, the staff thought they should come up with a name. They came up with “Denim and Pearls.”

“We can do elegant or we can do down-home,” she said.

The catering offerings range from continental breakfasts, salads and light lunches to full-blown meals. The choices are listed in a 16-page catalogue the staff has put together.

Horton is hoping the catering service can provide opportunities for high school students.

“One of our long-term goals is to include some of the home economics students in the catering program,” she said. “They will be able to get a taste of what a catering career might be like.”

District Business Manager Kevin Strong said the catering effort is helping the district, which has seen a drop in students and a resulting financial shortfall well below anticipations this year.

“Thanks to the effort of our staff, the food service program is self-sufficient,” he said. “Our goal is to keep it that way. By doing so we have more money available to spend in the classroom.”