UNION, NJ — The school district will conduct surveys regarding its food provider, Aramark, after concerns were voiced by parents and students. There will be two surveys conducted — one by the provider and one by the district — so the Board of Education can decide what to do when Aramark’s contract expires in June.
“We just got the link to the survey today,” school business administrator and board secretary Gregory Brennan said at the Nov. 20 BOE meeting. “The administration needs to review the survey first and then we will give parents and students access.”
Brennan said the school will be soliciting a request for proposal for a lunch provider, which he hopes will go out at the end of January so the district will have responses by March.
“If the company does change, this will give the district enough time to make the transition,” he said.
Residents expressed displeasure with the food service during the public comment portion of the Nov. 20 meeting. Aramark has been the district’s food provider for almost half a century.
Suehay Monge, wife of board member Jeff Monge, who had attended the board’s work session meeting a week prior to ask about Aramark, read an email to the board sent to her by a concerned parent with two daughters in district schools.
“The reason why my kids don’t partake in the food provided by the school is because they find it subpar,” Suehay Monge read from the email. “In their particular words, the chicken patties taste horrible, look like fake chicken and are pink.”
The parent’s email also stated that her children find the turkey, served around Thanksgiving, has a rubbery texture and the gravy is watery and flavorless, and that the pizza tastes like ketchup and cheese.
“Since my daughters find that the only thing that is palatable are the Tater Tots, my husband and I find this a waste and no longer pay for school-prepared lunch,” Suehay Monge read from the letter.
Prior to the work session meeting on Nov. 13, Suehay Monge posted on Facebook that she would read any emails about Aramark that were sent to her by parents or students at the board meetings.
After reading the email, she told the board she intends to read an email at each meeting until June.
“June is a long time from now and that’s seven months to continue to subject our kids to eating lunch with the issues that are happening,” Suehay Monge said.
She then asked again what the district plans to do about the issue until June, which drew a response from board attorney Lester Taylor, who identified her to attendees as Jeff Monge’s wife.
“I’m not a board member’s wife,” she responded. “I’m Suehay Monge, and I’m a here as a concerned parent.”
Her response was followed by applause from those in the gallery.
“I trust that once the surveys come back and the information is digested, then (the board) can come up with action plans and next steps, so it may be premature to comment on that at this point in time,” Taylor said.
Cathy Shaw, an elementary school employee, testified that she has seen children go all day without eating because they find the food served in school intolerable.
“I’ve seen children get their lunch, walk to their seat, sit down, look at it and throw the whole thing out,” she said. “And to these little kids, food is an important thing. It’s important to you, it’s important to me and it’s important to them.”
Shaw has been a school district employee for more than 30 years.
“Some children are lucky enough and have money left over so they can go buy an ice cream because that’s safe,” she continued. “Do you want your children or grandchildren having just ice cream? It’s an easy problem to settle.”
Shaw also alleged that she has seen workers in the cafeteria touch students’ food without wearing gloves.
“Regarding the hygiene part, I would’ve hoped that when it was observed, it was reported,” BOE President Vito Nufrio said. “Because, regardless if the food meets everyone’s preferences, I’m concerned about the hygiene. Thank you for bringing this to our attention.”
School Superintendent Gregory Tatum made no comment about Aramark in an email to LocalSource on Nov. 15. As of press time this week, he had not responded to inquiries about the Nov. 20 school board meeting.