This grant was made available through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) of 2009. The money from the grant must be obligated, that is an agreement for the money made between a contractor or seller and the school, before Aug. 12, 2009.
According to the school's superintendent, Ronald Taylor, the kitchen was in great need of a new cooler to store fresh fruits and vegetables for school lunches. "This walk-in cooler will double the space we now have with two refrigerators," according to a statement from the superintendent's office. "This will allow us to store more fruits and vegetables, which we use every day on a salad bar. The walk-in cooler will maintain a more constant temperature which will increase the life of the produce stored. Because we are a remote district, we have delivery trucks twice a week at best and commodities monthly. We need the space and the shelf life. We also expect this to promote healthier meals with more energy efficiency."
"Schools receive fruits like apples and oranges that stay better if you can refrigerate them," Taylor said. "If you leave those out in the store room, you're not going to get as good a shelf life as you would with a refrigerator. I think (the walk-in cooler) will help in extending the shelf life of some of these fruits and vegetables."
"We expect to have the cooler in place by the start of school in August," Taylor said.
The two refrigerators that the school kitchen currently uses lose cool air quickly when their doors are open for only a few seconds, Taylor said. The eight-by-eight walk-in cooler, he said, won't lose cool air as quickly and for that reason it should be more energy efficient than the smaller refrigerators.
Currently, the school is making room for the cooler in the kitchen so it can be easily accessed.
According to the Arkansas Department of Education, Child Nutrition Unit, 98 out of the 179 local education agencies that applied for the ARRA U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Equipment Assistance Grants were awarded funds. The program benefited 450 school kitchen/serving sites in the state.
Schools had to participate in the National School Lunch Program in the 2008-09 school year to be eligible. Another requirement was that schools had to have at least 50 percent of their students on free or reduced lunches. However, the USDA did allow schools that had less than that amount on free or reduced lunches to apply for the equipment grant.
Equipment lists that were sent in from applicants were assessed on the four USDA focus areas, which are healthy meals, food safety, energy efficiency and expanded participation.
A total of $1,243,865.71 of grant money was awarded for the first round. The second round will award $5,495.29.
The grant for the cooler was made possible through the efforts of Lula Waits, one of the five lunch ladies at the school, and Janet Young, the superintendent's secretary.
"This is really great because we have always needed more storage for fresh fruits and vegetables, and that's the main thing," Waits said. She said with new USDA guidelines, the new cooler should put Mammoth Spring School's cafeteria up-to-code.
Waits said one of the old refrigerators will still be used to keep things cool that need to be replenished often, such as salad dressing.
"This (the walk-in cooler) is going to help a lot, a whole lot," Waits said.