A look into Sodexo’s adjusted lunches

Ms. Faracchio and Ms. Sprangers in a video teaching students how to make Blackjack Chicken (screenshot from video on April 29, 2020)

A long line of restless Blackjack Chicken-craving students twists and turns its way all the way back to the hoagie bar. The students in line had the previous block free, so they probably spent the last fifteen minutes just outside the entrance of the dining hall doors with growling stomachs, formed a large cluster, and patiently counted down the seconds until the doors opened at 11:50, when they stampeded through the doors, eager to get their hands on a warm, crisp, spicy mayo-smothered chicken sandwich. 

     Students who arrived at 11:51 were out of luck; the line was already twenty minutes long.

     Last year, this was a completely normal sight. If a visitor were to stroll by the dining hall on such a day, they would be bewildered, but to the Fords, this was just another Wednesday. This year, Wednesdays like these have become impossible: the Blackjack Chicken sandwich has been swapped with a wrap, the Dining Hall with the classroom, and thirty-student 11:49 cluster with six-feet distancing outside advisory.

Damian Ferraro _22 enjoys a meal-plan lunch, Friday, October 2, 2020 – Robert Murray ’23

     While replicating last year’s lunch food or atmosphere is impossible, the Sodexo staff has been hard at work to provide the best dining experience possible for the community. The staff has planned new strategies and adapted to reach their goals.

     Director of Dining Ms. Kimberly Sprangers said, “We had to come up with a whole new way of doing food service and make sure that we could do it safely and in accordance with all the new regulations. But the biggest challenge was just figuring out how we were going to feed everybody.”

     “Feeding everybody” became an even greater challenge when Sodexo—perhaps surprisingly—surpassed their goal of selling 400 meal plans, about 75% of the number they would sell during a normal school year. The dining hall staff was already producing more food than originally planned when students began to request double portions.

     “[Selling double portions] was a hope I had, and I communicated it a little too early,” Ms. Sprangers said. “I thought it would be possible. I didn’t think we would sell near the number of meal plans that we sold. I really didn’t think we would, so once we hit that number and we had so many [meal plan purchases], we couldn’t keep up with all the production that we needed to do. So we came to a decision that we wouldn’t be able to do double portions.”

     The production aspect has caused the staff to adapt, but a new aspect of this year—delivery—has been an even greater challenge. Catering Manager Ms. Maria Faracchio has taken on the role of Delivery Manager this year to face these new difficulties head-on.

     “I would definitely say [the biggest challenge] was figuring out the timing and where everyone needs to be,” Ms. Faracchio said. “In the beginning, it was a little more hectic, but now we kind of have it down—between how late we can run it and get it out and try and keep it as hot or cold as possible. We’ll see how fast we can get it done, and each day we’ll time it.”

     The morning before the staff begins delivery, they prepare hundreds of boxes filled with the meal for the day.

     “We basically run an action station,” Ms. Sprangers said. “So cooks serve like an action station, but we’re taking the food and putting it into either a hot box or putting it onto a rack to deliver.”

     Ms. Faracchio added, “We start [delivering to the] middle school around 10:45, and they eat at 11:15. Then, we do lower school at 11:00, 11:30, and 12:00 because their lunches are spread out . . .  [we begin] upper school around 11:20, because [they] eat at noon. It seems so [spread out] to be working, [but] we’re literally getting done delivering like right before the lunch period starts, which is perfect. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Sixth Former Matthew Wang brings in his lunch each day – David Kearney ’22


     Ms. Sprangers is proud of her team.

     “These guys have really stepped up to the challenge. In the beginning, when we really started talking about this, I wasn’t sure how we were going to do it,” Ms. Sprangers said. “But my team came in and stepped up, and I’ve just been really impressed with how well they’ve taken on this challenge and really run with it.”

In spite of these efforts, the Sodexo staff understands that it is going to be difficult to please all of the students this year.

     In spite of these efforts, the Sodexo staff understands that it is going to be difficult to please all of the students this year.

     “You only have one option,” Ms. Sprangers said. “How many are going to like that? I can’t imagine that a hundred percent is going to be happy with that. But our main goal is to make sure [students are] nourished and to make sure everyone’s getting a well-balanced meal.”

     To these ends, Ms. Sprangers said, “We’ve made some changes to the menu to try to decrease some of the sugar. We had some homemade desserts on there that were great, but they were providing a lot of sugar.”

     A further complication has been maintaining the classic flavors students have come to love in the dining hall.

Lunches in Wilson Hall’s third floor, Friday, October 2, 2020 – Mr. Thomas Stambaugh

     “We did try a blackjack chicken wrap. I don’t think that was really well received because we can’t do the condiments, and that’s what makes that sandwich. You can’t get those condiments prepackaged because it’s a recipe that we make in the back. So it has been a challenge keeping things on there that everybody likes,” Ms. Sprangers said.

     The staff, however, is open to suggestions.

     Ms. Sprangers said, “If anybody has any ideas, we can certainly try to see if we can take it, produce it, put it in a box, and deliver it.”

Author: Mitav Nayak '22

Mitav Nayak has contributed to The Index since 2018. He currently serves as Editor-in-Chief. Mitav won the fall 2019 Pennsylvania School Press Association (PSPA) Philadelphia-area Student Journalism Competition for Newspaper Sports Story Writing and was to compete for the state title in the spring of 2020 (canceled due to COVID).