Dolphin Day! (feat. Rooney Powers)

The Cape House Show: Episode 87


It’s Dolphin Day!

Yes, I am a graduate of DY high school, Dennis-Yarmouth Regional District. We do a lot of business here in Dennis and Yarmouth. And I just like to every once in a while, give the district a little shout out. And not just from me, but from the real people who are the Dolphins of today.

So today, it’s kinda crazy. So we’re in the middle of a pandemic right now, by the way, and I had intended on inviting our next guest all along, and then when we had the pandemic, it became even more timely. So I would like to introduce to you Ms. Rooney Powers, who is the food service director for the entire district.


Katie: So, Rooney, take it away! Tell us a little bit about what you do on a normal day at the district. And then we’re gonna talk about what are you doing right now. So tell me about what you do today?

Rooney: Well, thanks for having me, first off. I couldn’t be a more proud supporter of the DY school district. So I’m glad to be here with you. So my department is the whole food service area. Includes everything that has to do with the cafeteria, and food service for all of our kids. We serve breakfast and lunch in all of our schools every single day, Monday through Friday. And I’m in charge of making that all happen. So that is from purchasing the food, receiving the food, putting the bids out on the food, from budgeting to staffing, to making sure it all happens, following all the rules and regulations that we have to follow through the National School Lunch Program. There are a lot of regulations that we have to follow that have to do with nutritional standard and the way we feed our kids, and having balanced meals, both from breakfast and lunch. And I try to make sure that that all happens. And we try to make sure that it’s flawless and everything tastes good, and the kids come in and be able to sit down and relax and enjoy their meals. But you know, it’s a full process to go from nothing in September, and fill the fridges and staff the lunch rooms and make sure everything goes out on time. You know, our budget is not included in the school budget, not too many people know that.

Katie: I did not know that!

Rooney: No, so the food service department is not included in the school budget that you see, that’s being passed by the towns and what have you. I run a self-sufficient operation. So all the money that I have to buy the food for, and the labor for, any overhead, all that comes from lunch sales. Comes from people buying breakfast and buying lunch and some al la carte snacks, bottles of water.

Not too many people realize that the food service department is actually separate from the school system itself. Not the school system, but the school budget.

Katie: No, I understand what you mean. That’s really interesting. Okay, so you just described a gigantic job, huge responsibility that you’ve got. And one of the big concerns as COVID started marching down the pike that people are like, we gotta keep school going, not just because the kids need to learn, but because the kids need to eat. A lot of kids rely on you. So when this all happened, you had to make some huge changes. Tell me a little bit about how your days have changed

since school has been out unexpectedly?

Rooney: So we did have to make some changes. So we transitioned, during the summer we run something called the Summer School Lunch Program. So we’re the only school district on the Cape that does that.

So during the summer, you can actually come into our schools and get a free meal, get a free lunch. Anyone, any child. And we’re the only school district down the Cape that does that. So we just really transitioned into that program, which was approved by the Federal Government, by the USDA. They came and put waivers through, so a lot of the school systems could transition into that program.

Katie: Wait, wait, wait, stop right now. That’s actually a huge deal. I knew you guys were killing it and getting out there and serving lunches and putting smiley faces on bananas and writing love notes on the bags and all that stuff. But what I didn’t realize was that you were like, “We know how to do this. “Give me ten minutes.” Boop boop boop. And you just transition to a program that you already had.

Rooney: We already had in place, we already knew how, I already knew how to run it. I’ve been running it for years. A lot of the other school districts that are kind of in the middle of this COVID crisis didn’t know how to do this.They didn’t how to transition. So they’ve had to kind of go through a learning curve and with whole bunches of conference calls and trainings and processes about applications, and, you know, different ways of recording things and different meal methods, and I knew all that.

Katie: So have you been helping them?

Rooney: Yeah, I’ve actually done a couple of videos with some people and some trainings. And they were using our model as a model for Massachusetts so, go DY!

Katie: What? Unbelievable. That’s awesome, oh congratulations. You must be so proud.

Rooney: Yeah, we’re doing great things. So, you know, we had to transition and we moved, so the first couple of days and everything was kind of crazy. But we moved right into that different platform of delivering meals. Now, the COVID thing, that added a little bit more delicacy, I would say, to serving the kids. So we wanted to make sure that we had that social distance with the families. The kids don’t have to be there to pick up the meals, which is huge.

During the summer, they have to be there to eat the meal on site. A different program. But now with this, we don’t have to do that. So the parents can roll up. The neighbor can come pick up. Your aunt, whoever wants to come pick up the meals,

can come do that. So that’s what we’ve provided. Now, we have all six of our schools are open for service.

So, how it works is you pull in, there’ll be one of the lunch ladies right there. Rock stars. They’ll say, you know, “How many do you need?” And you’ll say, you know, “Four kids.” And then they’ll say, “Okay, put your window back up.” You’ll roll up to a little cart. The next lady will put four bag lunches and breakfasts on the cart. She’ll clear the way to social distance. You’ll put your window down and you’ll reach out and grab the meals yourself and take them into your car. So there’s no contact between our ladies and the public, the people rolling up. So we try to keep that safe zone and keep it clean and sanitary and then the cart gets pulled back, and the next customer comes up.

Katie: That’s awesome. So, really, you’re super efficient, you’re honoring all of the sanitary and health things and the social distancing, and really being super responsible with that, which you have to be. How are you, still, ’cause I know you guys always, you serve with a smile, you’re not like bleh. Like you guys are really nice people. And you actually love up these kids when you’re feeding them, I know you do. So how are you letting them know that you care about them and you’re thinking about them? What are you doing?

Rooney: You roll up to any of the sites here and you’ll see signage out that the lunch ladies have made. We have one of them writing messages on all the bags that say “Smile” and “Think” and “Imagine” and “Hope” and “Love” and “We miss you” and you know, “Friends” and all kinds of really positive messaging going, writing on the bags. She was also writing on little messages on the bananas. Little banana-grams.
The ladies also made posters, you know, and “We miss you” and different things. And of course there’s always a smile. and they’re always waving and saying hello, and they get to see the kids. And you know, we’ve had a couple of the ladies say, you know, “This is our pleasure.” We can’t believe that we get to do this, “because not only are we feeding the kids “and doing something that’s necessary “and important for our families, “but we get to see the kids every day.”
We’re getting to see the kids and you know,

the people in the buildings, they’re missing their kids, you know? And the lunch ladies get to see the kids as they come through every day.

I can’t believe we get to do this because, you know, we’re doing two things here. We’re providing and doing what we do best by providing meals and food for our kids, so they’re not hungry. We don’t need any rumbly tumblies. Only full bellies! But they said, you know, “We get to see the kids and it’s uplifting for us and humbling.”

To meet some of the parents, which they don’t get to see – that’s been another side. The ladies really enjoyed that. You know, they know the kids, and they know Little Timmy and little Susie, but they’ve never met the parents before. And the parents have come by and said the same thing. “Boy, we didn’t realize what a connection that “they’ve made with the lunch ladies,” you know. But they get to see that, that they know their kids’ names. All the kids’ names. They don’t have, you know, the 25 in the classroom. They have the whole 450 in the school. Or more.

Katie: Right.

Rooney: So they know all the kids in the whole school. So the parents are pulling up, and the lunch ladies know their names and they say hello and they get excited to see them, and they get to see that connection that they’ve made. And it’s really quite fun too because they’ve been making pictures and signs and putting them on the windows to show the lunch ladies, “We miss you.” “And this is the drawing I made for you.”

Katie: There’s been a lot of, sort of, unintended consequences and unintended negative consequences but a lot of unintended really, kind of, cool things. That is a definitely cool thing. Oh my gosh, I am so impressed with what you’re doing…

Rooney: It’s really emotional and a lot of people have said,
you know, and boy, have we had tough weather. It’s taking place outside. Cold mornings, every day. It’s been unbelievable with the weather. The sky has not only been gray, but it’s been, you know, stormy and raining sideways and wind. And it’s really been quite something, but they’re out there every single day with smiles on. They’ve got their rain gear on, and they’re out there in their boots and sloshing through. No, nothing’s going to stop them. The whole time with a smile

and enjoying every minute of it.

Katie: I just love it, it’s awesome.

Rooney: It’s been amazing, they’re amazing people.

Katie: So great. So, I have some questions for you before we finish. But before I jump into my questions, is there anything else that you want anybody to know out there? You’ve already told me a few things that I didn’t know, but what else is there that you want us to know?

Rooney: So especially right now, from what we’re going through. I’m not sure how this will air. We will be open tomorrow on Good Friday. During April vacation, I know there’s been some questions about that. We will be open April vacation, the food service department. So we will be serving meals for that whole week. We’re going to be here from Monday through Friday for as long as we have to be. So as long as school is out, we will be in this process and we’ll have meals available at all the schools. Again, that’s Monday through Friday in public schools from 11 to one o’clock. Now, there are also some people out there saying, “I’m still working, I can’t get there from 11 to one.” We have a delivery service.

Katie: What?

Rooney: We are in full delivery mode right now. We have a full delivery service and we will deliver to Yarmouth and Dennis, to any household. So we’ll bring it right to your front step. If you cannot get to the school, please contact me directly. My number is 508-398-7626 and that’s a direct line to me. I will make sure that you have meals on your step the next day. We deliver on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays right now, and we’ll bring the bags to you for Monday, for Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday for Wednesday, Thursday and then Friday we’ll bulk you up a little bit for the weekend, so you have a little something for the weekend as well. So if you can’t get to one of these schools, there’s no reason for you to not have these meals. We will bring them to you, so please reach out and let me know if you need some help, because that’s what we’re here for.

Katie: Oh my god, that is so awesome. You’re the best, this is so cool. All right, so I have a few questions. I’ve already asked the first one, which is what is your role in the district? We know that. So you’re a Dolphin, that makes you a Dolphin. You don’t have to be a student here. You are a very important part of the Dolphin community, which makes you a Dolphin. How long have you been a Dolphin?

Rooney: I started working for the district in 2004. And this is my fifth year, as the food service director. It’s been a great, however many years. I’ve loved it and you know, I’ve had a lot of jobs. I’m a trained chef and that’s what I’ve done for most of my life. You know, I’ve cooked in a lot of fine dining restaurants. And that’s my background. I also still work as a personal private chef.

Katie: Excuse me, really?

Rooney: I keep my hands in it, a little bit. So during the summer I work as a private chef. So I try to keep my fingers in the food, a little bit. So that’s my background. But then I came into the food service thing as I became a mom and I needed something a little bit less crazy than the restaurant business. So this has been such an unbelievable blessing. I kinda fell into it a little bit. But I can’t say enough about how much I love my job. I love my job. I get to get up every morning and say, “I get to go do this today.”

Katie: How many people can say that, honestly?

Rooney: I am so lucky, I can’t tell you.

Katie: Oh god, that’s awesome. God, I’m learning so many things. And I’ve got so many ideas by the way. You’ve kinda alluded to some of it, but I’m gonna try to pin you down to what is your favorite thing about being a Dolphin?

Rooney: Well, I just think the pride of the school district. You know, we come in from all different areas and you know, whether it be the teachers or the food service director or an administrator or whatever you’re doing, special education. And we all come in with such a need to help and want and try to learn, I mean, try to teach, excuse me. And learn too. But that’s, you know, it’s really prideful. So when I pull into work every day, I’m really proud to do this job. And it comes back to you because all the other people are feeling the same way. So it makes me really happy that I’m able to work for this district and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Katie: It’s awesome. So the pride, of course, Dolphin pride.

#Dolphinpride. Please, if you could, think of one, and you can pick more if you want, a Dolphin who you admire or appreciate or both. Who would it be?

Rooney: That one’s easy. I admire and I appreciate all the lunch ladies that are working underneath me. And they’re not working underneath, they’re working beside me, because this is a total team effort. And they are amazing people. What they’re doing right now is incredible. That they’re out there doing this. They could be sitting home, but they’re there. And every single day they show up with a smile on their face, with a warm heart, with doing what they do best, by, you know,

building and providing and serving meals to the kids. And they come to work every day with such an amazing attitude that you can’t help but look at them with admiration.

Katie: I really have to swing through one of these days and just–

Rooney: You just need to. And every little site has a little something different going on. So, you know, go to each one and see. Everyone’s got a little different crowd, and a little different feel, but every single one of them is going to welcome you with a wave and a smile and you know, a jumping jack. I don’t know. It’s amazing what kind of positiveness they’re trying to bring to all the families as they roll through this.

Katie: It doesn’t sound like they’re having to try very hard.

Rooney: This is a tough time, you know, these people are coming through and they need a little help. And that’s what they’re there for. And we’re just not giving them meals. You know, we’re trying to give them a little something positive. A little something to smile about each day. And in a few of our driveways, we have a little sign there that says “Food is love.”  I think that’s just true.

Katie: It’s absolutely, god, that’s awesome. So cool. Okay, keep it together. All right, we’re going to take the topic off of food for a minute. What is the last book you read?

Rooney: I wish I could read more. I wish I did. But the last book I read was probably a year ago, and it was Michelle Obama’s “Becoming”.

Katie: Awesome. Dogs or cats?

Rooney: Oh, 100% dogs. Cats and I don’t get along. I’m actually fearful of cats. I don’t know where it came from, like, I didn’t have anything crazy happen to me. But I have this fear of cats and I do not wanna be in a room with a cat. I get a little freaked out and I’m just like, “Oh no, keep the cat back.” All day long, bring the dogs. I appreciate they’re adorable. But I just don’t wanna be near ’em.

Katie: So my last question is one that I ask everybody, but it’s a particularly interesting one to be asking you. And it is, cookies or brownies?

Rooney: I’m gonna go with pie.

Katie: What? (laughs loudly) Of course you are!

Rooney: Pie is the way to go. Anything that ends in the word “pie”, I’m good with. Blueberry pie, my favorite pie is strawberry rhubarb pie. Any pie, I’m good.

Katie: You ever serve pie at school?

Rooney: It’s very hard to do, because we have 3000 kids. But sometimes at Thanksgiving, we try to get the little hand pies and stuff. A treat now and then is always a welcome thing.

So you know, I’ll throw a little something in there because I threw out 3000, it’s actually a little more than that because the DY food service actually provides the meals for the St. Pius school as well. So St. Pius has us as their vendor. So my services are over there at the St. Pius school. So you’ll find the DY lunch ladies over there as well.

Katie: Unbelievable, unbelievable. I cannot believe how much I have learned about what you do, who you are, a lot about what you like, and what you do not like, (both laughing) and so much about what the food service system is doing over there. It’s just awesome. Very, very cool.

I encourage anybody, whether you need food or not, swing by and just give them a give them a boop boop. Give them a “Hey, how you doing?” A thank you. Maybe flowers wouldn’t hurt. Just a little bit of appreciation. Or just come say hi, ’cause I think that they deserve all the love that they are putting–

Rooney: Can I put in one more thing? We’re not taking any donations right now for food. People are like, “Can I drop off food? “Can I help out that way? “Or even volunteer? “Can I volunteer?” We’re not doing any volunteering or taking in any type of donations just because we’re trying to keep the people out of our schools, the extra people. Stay safe. And that’s the same way with the donations. We really don’t want too many hands coming in on the food and everything. So everything that we’re serving right now is controlled. So we’re trying to keep that control, and it’s very thoughtful. The only donation that we would actually accept, and this is, again, just out of the goodness of your heart, we would take grocery store gift cards. Come in, we can sanitize them properly, and hand them out to some of our families on Friday. Families that need a little bit extra.

Katie: Fantastic. Okay, for people that really wanna help, they can purchase gift cards.

Rooney: That would be the way to go. And, again, you can contact me and we can discuss how we can get those over. But that’s really the only donation we’re taking right now. Again, just trying to stay safe for everybody.

Katie: Yeah, of course, of course. Well Rooney, thank you so much, I really, really enjoyed it. And we should stay in touch. I think we would be friends. All right guys, thank you so much for tuning in to The Cape House Show and for the Dolphin Days edition!


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