Cassopolis feeding kids healthy fair meals

Published 7:05 pm Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Theresa Mott serves meals at Cassopolis Public Schools' Meet Up and Eat Up.

Theresa Mott serves meals at Cassopolis Public Schools’ Meet Up and Eat Up.

CASSOPOLIS — Call them lone Rangers.

Tucked away off the beaten track, across from the beef barn wash racks, Cassopolis Public Schools’ summer meals program swims against the tide, trying to serve healthy, nutritional fare this week at the 162nd Cass County Fair.

It may seem daunting to distract youngsters from such midway temptations as elephant ears, fries and corn dogs, but parents find their way to the food tent called Meet Up and Eat Up.

Perhaps Tuesday wasn’t the best day to drop in because the “healthy” menu’s main entree was hot dogs (with carrots and apple sauce) — a concession to Kiddies’ Day.

Today’s nachos with cheese are made with turkey taco meat and served with green beans and sherbet. Breakfast sausage also features turkey links.

Robyn Bright, starting her eighth year as food service director, expects to spend $8,000, which will be reimbursed by the state.

They served 300 breakfasts and 446 lunches on Tuesday.

“This is our third year,” Bright said. “I’m very fortunate to have the fairgrounds within the district. I went to my superintendent and school board three years ago with the idea, and they said, ‘It sounds great because you’re taking care of kids in our community,’ so I applied and got approved. We moved to this location this year and just love it” because the truck enjoys easier access.

“I advertise it to 4-Hers ahead of time in their fair packets,” she said. “This is a federal program that’s done nationally, though this year they changed the slogan. South Bend does it also. Next year, they’re going to add ‘Read Up’ to Meet Up and Eat Up. The state’s trying to incorporate not only healthy meals, but reading.”

The first thing you notice is there are no prices posted.

“I get many compliments from parents,” Bright said. “They say, ‘You don’t know how much this helps financially.’ We’re open 7 to 9:30 for breakfast and 11 to 1:30 for lunch. Anybody under 18 qualifies.”

The program is open to those up to age 18 who come from Niles, Dowagiac and Edwardsburg as well as Cassopolis.

“Monday, we had fresh strawberries on the menu,” Bright said.

Produce, such as corn and beans, grow in their own garden at the high school.

“We’ll incorporate even more with our ag science magnet school starting this fall,” she said.

Bright operates similar sites at Cass District Library (lunch only), at the community center in Vandalia, at Ross Beatty Junior/Senior High School and at Sam Adams Elementary School.

Bright brought her three grandchildren from Florida to Kiddies’ Day.

They look forward to eating sweet corn on the cob and tomatoes in Michigan.

State Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, walks up and greets Jenna, 6; Nathan, seventh grade; and Katie, fifth grade, who played softball in the World Series.

“Jenna was going to be our daughter’s name,” he said of Nora, 6, before they look at a combine together.

Staffing Meet Up and Eat Up were head cook Theresa Mott and her ex-husband, John, who drives the truck from the kitchen at the high school where food is prepared.

Divorced after 22 years, they not only work together, they are neighbors in Cassopolis. Years ago, when they lived in Wakelee, the Daily News did a story on their huge Christmas light display.

“Last year we served over 2,000 kids fair week,” Theresa said. “There’s definitely a need. That’s what we’re here for. We’re here for the kids.”