When you have excess capacity, you want to use it. That is a mantra for any well-managed enterprise.
New York's SchoolFood Department is no exception. It currently serves 179 outside clients such as private schools plus 52 charter schools that are quasi-independent of the public school system.
Shawanda Charles not only manages the outside business as director of special programs but is also responsible for finding new clients (she also oversees the programs that dispense some 10 million afterschool snacks and 2.3 million suppers to district children).
About half of the outside clients receive meals (hot or cold), prepared and delivered from a nearby public school kitchen. The rest have contracted to have SchoolFood come in and manage their kitchen operations, just like a private contract management company would—which means Charles is basically pitching for new business on behalf of SchoolFood.
Sites that need more than 200 daily meals must have an onsite kitchen or accept only cold meals. "We won't deliver more than 200 hot meals because of food safety issues," Charles says.
Delivery is handled by a contracted vendor that also transports catered meals. The menu for outside clients is the same as for city schools.
Special Programs also provides meals to about 20 "vended programs"—clients like daycare and senior citizen centers and homeless shelters that do not qualify for the National School lunch program. They pay a per-meal charge, plus a delivery fee if they have the meals delivered.
Charles says business continues to pick up. She recently added two private schools, including one with 800 students.
"We now have 231 outside clients that have chosen us," Charles says. "We're always looking for more!"