Last Wednesday a steady stream of locals filed into the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School cafeteria to pick up a $10 meal during the Giveback with Italian Takeaway event. The idea is that the meal supports high school lunches and the Island Grown Schools’ garden program. The funds get put into a revolving account that goes towards funding the new garden being developed at the high school, or goes to purchase healthier foods from local producers.
“These programs need all the money they can get. The school is very supportive in their funding, but Martha’s Vineyard food costs a lot of money here,” Kevin Crowell said, the food program coordinator and the culinary arts teacher.
Island Grown Schools is a farm-to-school program that has been around since 2007, according to Tim Connelly, the Island Grown Schools program leader at Island Grown Initiative (IGI).
The takeout offerings were a slow-roasted pork shoulder bolognese or a zucchini, basil, and sun-dried tomato sauce, and both were served over orecchiette (pasta). The takeout came with a dessert of oat and almond biscotti and Italian butterscotch budino (pudding). The Italian takeout had around 300 preorders, with an option to walk in and pay with cash or check.
“When we did the very first one, the Ramen Night, we didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t know how popular it was going to be,” said Mercedes Ferreira, the head cook for the school lunch program since September.
Crowell came up with the idea for Giveback with Takeaway by looking at different food programs around New England and the U.S. The idea initially was planned as a meal service for faculty who had no time to prepare dinner when spending time in afterschool meetings.
When Crowell and Mercedes took over the school program at the beginning of the last school year, they collaborated with IGI to craft a different type of fundraiser. According to Connelly, IGI has been involved with fundraisers for the high school culinary arts program. Island Grown Schools helps with fundraisers like the Giveback with Takeaway, and is working on installing a new kitchen garden at the high school. The MVRHS cafeteria also takes part in IGI’s food waste recovery program, which collects food scraps from the schools and businesses and turns them into compost at IGI’s Farm Hub in Vineyard Haven.
The first Giveback with Takeout fundraiser was Dec. 4 last year, a Japanese event with traditional ramen made with slow-roasted pork, poached eggs, and hand-rolled noodles. The next takeout happened on Jan. 8, and featured an Indian meal of chicken tikka masala, or vegetarian chole served with basmati rice, kaali dal, and naan. The fundraisers sold out, with the Indian takeout event the most popular.
“For this particular thing that we do once a month on a Wednesday, we’ve had amazing support from the community,” Ferreira said while marking off pre-orders with a highlighter.
Ferreira had two student volunteers working alongside her, Thalita Ferreira Rosa Neves and Emmanuell De Oliveira, along with kitchen employees Seth Karlinsky and Tyler Poole. Neves got involved with last month’s takeout program, and came back to volunteer a second time for the Italian takeout. And De Oliveira found out about the program through a friend.
“Ever since this year, the food quality has improved,” De Oliveira said. “I’m happy that we got this whole food change, because now I don’t have to just live off of pizza every day, and the meals can be pretty diverse.”
Students in the high school Culinary Arts program prepared the food for the takeout fundraiser. They started prepping the pasta dish two days before, which Crowell uses as an overlap to teach skill sets such as participating in a fundraiser or preparing food in a restaurant setting.
“We get pre-orders to try and gauge [the takeout], so we’re as efficient as possible,” Crowell said.
Participants can preorder for the Giveback fundraiser on IGI’s website by filling out an order form. Crowell is thinking about experimenting with a marketing plan that students can put together through programs like Google Form or Instagram, to teach the marketing aspect of a fundraiser like this. According to Crowell, students from the business classes put together the fundraiser’s press release.
According to Connelly, the preorders begin a week before the Giveback Takeout date, with an update posted on IGI’s website that provides a link to the pre-orders. Also, IGI uses a combination of Instagram and email newsletters that are sent out once per week for anyone involved with IGI.
The cafeteria staff and high school volunteers for the fundraiser served food behind the steel lunch counter. So far, there are meat and vegetarian options for the Giveback Takeout events, but no gluten-free options.
According to Ferreira, they plan on doing the Giveback with Takeaway throughout the school year, and hopefully into the next school year as well. Ferreira described the importance of rotating the grains in each meal to try to keep the next takeout fresh and tempting.
The Takeaway time window is two hours long, with staff volunteering their time during afterschool hours. Participants are encouraged to bring their Tupperware to have a bigger container for large orders, use fewer takeout boxes, and limit their carbon footprint.
“My hope for the program going forward is that kids are really confident they can come to school and eat here. There’s always something for everybody to come and eat,” Ferreira said.
Crowell is thinking of going with either Ethiopian or Jamaican dishes for the next takeout. The first Wednesday in March is the next target date for the takeout at the high school.