Most of us are familiar with Betty Crocker, the fictional “first lady of food” who has served as a source of inspiration to home cooks for more than 90 years. However, when we learned of a real-life Betty making a difference to feed kids in her community, we knew we had to share her inspiring story.
Betty Crocker, director of child nutrition services at Redlands Unified School District in California, jokingly refers to herself as “the real Betty.” Named after her grandmother with the same famous name, she says her passion for food and feeding others is part of her DNA.
“My very first memory is of time spent in the kitchen,” says Betty, who also remembers her first book was, not surprisingly, a cookbook. Later, when pursuing an associate’s degree at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Pasadena, she began to fully embrace her name’s legacy and its influence on her own life.
Betty’s special “calling” led her to her current role, where she is responsible for the feeding of 22,000 students in her school community. But there is nothing she’d rather do and admits it’s a bit serendipitous that she gets to fulfill her passion to serve kids and build healthier communities.
This past summer, Betty was named one of five national winners of the 2018 No Kid Hungry Summer Meals Hero Contest for her efforts to launch and grow a summer meal program in her community. General Millis is a proud partner of No Kid Hungry, a campaign of Share Our Strength, to ensure kids across the country start their day poised for success with a nourishing school breakfast.
“Thanks to Betty, more kids in her district returned to school this past fall well-nourished and ready to learn,” said Carla Glaspie, an account executive with General Mills Foodservice serving the West region.
Success built from scratch
Shortly after starting at Redlands Unified, Betty was surprised to learn there wasn’t a summer feeding program because knew there was a huge need.
”Food insecurity doesn’t happen elsewhere,” says Betty, noting that it was happening in her backyard. “You can’t teach a hungry child.”
Recognizing the problem at hand was actually an opportunity, Betty sprang into action and worked with her team and her greater community to build a program that has grown to 55,000 meals served this past summer.
She acknowledges it wasn’t easy. As K-12 foodservice directors know well, escalating food costs and labor shortfalls require creative solutions in all areas of school feeding programs. Betty said that she, with the support of her team, looked at ways to re-engineer the food system and was able to streamline operations so all the food is prepared out of a central location.
“It helps if you can to centralize labor,” says Betty. “The more you concentrate labor through ‘hubs’ it helps to keep costs in line.”
With a staff of 20 in the summer, Redlands Unified prepares 1,300 meals each day at its central kitchen. Meals are then disbursed to several locations, including a community center, the high school, the YMCA and a public library. Betty says this wouldn’t be possible without the help of others, such as the local police department, which shares its barbeque trailer, as well as collaborations with manufacturers and grants to purchase equipment like food carts.
But the challenge to find solutions is part of what drives Betty to succeed. She says, “a dream has to be bigger than any barrier.”
You can read more about Betty’s No Kid Hungry recognition and her team’s summer feeding program here.