Catching up with Nolen Fetchko, new Food Service Director
Mr. Nolen Fetchko, Food Service Director
Nolen Fetchko is beginning his 8th year of school food service working in school districts across Butler and Allegheny Counties. He has a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition from Penn State University and a Masters in Food and Nutrition from IUP.
IN THIS EPISODE, WE WILL REVIEW
Catching up with Nolen Fetchko, new Food Service Director
Nolen Fetchko: Welcome to Voices, a national award-winning podcast brought to you by the Seneca Valley School District.
Jeff Krakoff: This is Jeff Krakoff. Today we're speaking with Nolen Fetchko, Food Service Director at Seneca Valley School District. Welcome.
Nolen Fetchko: It's nice to be here, Jeff. Thank you.
Jeff Krakoff: So Nolen, I know you just started your new role very recently. Just so people can get to know you a little better, why don't you just walk us through your background from your education, through other professional experiences.
Nolen Fetchko: Yeah. So I went to Penn State for my undergrad and I went to IEP for my master's. Both of them being in nutrition. After school, I started working on a local vegetable farm. It was called Ambrose Vegetable Farm. Some people might be familiar with it, but it might be a little too far of a drive for people living out here in Cranberry.
Jeff Krakoff: Now, where's that located?
Nolen Fetchko: It's in Cabot, PA out near Saxonburg. So there's probably a couple more farms and vegetable stands in between here and there.
Jeff Krakoff: But you've got firsthand knowledge of vegetables. Yeah, just as a nutrition expert. Yeah. Get your hands in the dirt.
Nolen Fetchko: I've seen it from the dirt to a tray at this point, so. Well, that was great experience. And that was I was a supervisor there for but through college and full time after college. And then I went on to work in a nursing home kitchen for UPMC, and that was a long-term care and rehabilitation. And I got to work with some patients and outpatients with different disabilities and different limitations and diet orders and things like that, and got some real firsthand kitchen experience there. And after that I moved on to working with the nutrition group who took me on as a food service director trainee, and they were fantastic resource, showing me the ropes, training me. And then ultimately I started as the Food Service Director for the Freeport Area School District with them. And from there I went on to a role called a regional assistant, which was training me to be a regional manager with them. And at that point I saw a job opening at Mt. Lebanon School District, and it was always my goal to be a district employee as a food service director, as opposed to an employee of a management company. And so I applied to Mt. Lebanon and landed there for the last five years. And just started it in July at Seneca Valley, and I couldn't be more excited to do it.
Jeff Krakoff: So while I'm sure the District is happy to have you with all that varied experience you have. So again, since this is your first school year, I imagine you're setting goals for this year and beyond. What are some of the goals for the Food Service Program?
Nolen Fetchko: Yeah, so short term, everyone's familiar with the new Ehrman Crest building. So obviously getting that opened up to speed, figuring out how the operation works there and how our team members work in that kitchen. That was goal number one. The pandemic here and other school districts kind of wreaked havoc on staffing numbers. So a goal for this year is to kind of gain a few people more than we lose through retirement and hopefully fill our team out a little bit more than it is right now and then long term.
Nolen Fetchko: Just becoming a part of the District. And what I mean by that, is being sometimes food service departments have a tendency to kind of be like in a bubble on their own because they they're in a different realm of being a revenue generating, self-sustaining department, dealing with food, not really being in the classroom. And I really want to just be a part of the District working with sports teams, working with classrooms, being available as a resource to health classes and gym classes and things like that, and really making our team a part of the educational model. And kind of got into that at Mt. Lebanon. We started a Game Day Meals program, and we brought in the sports dietitian from the University of Pittsburgh. They spoke to athletes and students and kind of educated them on proper nutrition, pre-game post-game pre test, post test and gave them the tools to make good decisions. But we didn't force them to. And then we had game day meals label in the cafeteria that allowed them to kind of apply that knowledge and creating programs and opportunities like that is something I really enjoy and something I look forward to being able to do here as well.
Jeff Krakoff: Yeah. So you haven't been here for that long, but what's it been like since your first day getting ready to when the doors opened for first day of school?
Nolen Fetchko: It's been great. I think it was July 11th was my first day and I got to spend a few weeks with the previous director, Darlene Carmack, and she was great. A huge, super helpful resource, a wealth of knowledge, just soaking up everything from her. Faye Nelson is here and she's been fantastic and helping me out, helping me learn the operation and introducing me to people and making connections and then just getting to know. Our team has been awesome. We have a great team at every school and really just making sure that we're good to go. Everyone I've met here has been fantastic. Administrators, teachers, facilities, maintenance, our team coaches that I bump into in the fieldhouse. Everyone's been fantastic and incredibly welcoming, so I can't thank everyone enough for that. I'm super appreciative of it.
Jeff Krakoff: Right. Nolen, you mentioned the pandemic, right? That changed a lot of things. And schools and food service. I know that one of the things that came along with that was breakfast and lunch were free for everybody. What's happening with that and how is it going to look this school year?
Nolen Fetchko: Yeah. So as people may have already found out, they are no longer free to everybody. We're returning, per the USDA to the model of free and reduced applications being necessary to have free and reduced meals. So going back to the past this year, we have had to have families fill out a free and reduced application, send it in to us or fill it out on the Internet and submit it electronically. And then it's determined off of that information on that application, whether they're eligible for free meals, eligible for reduced meals, and if they're not, they're just paying full price for meals again. So that that's probably the biggest change for this school year coming from the pandemic, is that that program has ended. But it's important for people to do that anyway. Even during the pandemic, people were still filling out those applications so that they could get waivers for athletic fees, laptop insurances; these things like that. So it shouldn't have changed too much. I think everyone was still kind of utilizing those applications, but now some people are paying for lunch, whereas the last two years they were not.
Jeff Krakoff: Is there a particular deadline for filling out the application for free and reduced lunch? Is it still an option or is it past now?
Nolen Fetchko: So that's rolling all year long. If you something happens and in a family's life, job loss, anything, any other kind of hardship, they're always welcome to fill out an application, even if it's the last week of school to get the last couple of days of school to get those free meals. And then it carries over into the next school year for the first 30 days of school. So there's a little bit of a grace period there. If you fill out an application for one school year, you automatically, regardless of any information we receive or don't receive,
Nolen Fetchko: you're those first 30 days you carry over that same status until you submit your next application, and then your status is determined off that new application.
Jeff Krakoff: Okay. So for any students and their parents wanting to do that, where do they go? Is that application on a website? Is that another agency?
Nolen Fetchko: Yeah. So the information is on our website. And we also sent out a packet prior to the start of school year to every household in the District. So they received a physical copy and if they they don't have it, they accidentally threw it away or something, then it can be found on its a the campus website for electronic applications or it can be found on our District website as well.
Jeff Krakoff: So when you look at the menu for the school year, do you have a favorite item?
Nolen Fetchko: Yeah. So I am actually, I'm a big fan of corndogs. So yeah, so we have mini corn dog nuggets and I'm a huge fan of those. Those are one of my favorite. In my opinion, they're better than a corn dog because you get a little more breading when they're cut up into little pieces like that.
Jeff Krakoff: So we learn something new about you. All right. Do you have any last tips or suggestions for people that are listening to this when it comes to utilizing the food service at the District?
Nolen Fetchko: I think one thing I've run into in every school district I've I've been in is with younger kids, especially those on free and reduced benefits. They and this is a great trait for kids to have. They don't want to waste food. But one of the things that's required for us to be able to give that meal at the reduced or free rate is to make it what's called a complete meal. And a complete meal consists of the entrée, which is generally a grain and a protein. And then we have the milk and then there's fruits and vegetables, which is a component as well. And for a meal to be considered reimbursable and come at no cost or a very reduced cost. A fruit or vegetable has to be on the students tray. And sometimes we run into younger kids either not wanting to try it and or not wanting to waste the food, which is great. But then we get some questions about why the meals aren't coming for the free or reduced rate. And then we explain that and it's just something that has to be explained to the younger and newer students. So for everyone out there that has children new to the game, that's one thing to keep an eye on, to make sure that they're open to try on their fruits and vegetables so those meals can come at the free or reduced rate.
Jeff Krakoff: All right. Well, that's interesting. I never knew that. Well, thank you so much again. Great conversation. This was Nolen Fetchko, Food Services Director at Seneca Valley School District. Thanks so much for joining us.
Nolen Fetchko: Yeah, thank you.
Jeff Krakoff: Take care.
Nolen Fetchko: You too.