'Served with love'
One day last week, sixth-graders at Powell Butte Community Charter School stood in the cafeteria line with Mason jars in their plastic-gloved hands.
First, they measured spiral noodles into the jar. Next came a pinch of celery salt, then a dash of thyme. Then they added chicken-flavored base and topped if off with a bay leaf.
Next week, Grandma's Chicken Soup in a Jar will be one of many student projects for sale at the school's 10th Annual Christmas Bazaar.
The event, which is open from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 20 in the school cafeteria, is one of the main fundraisers for the school lunch program.
The 206 kindergarten through eighth-grade students at the charter school don't seem to mind the additional craft and food project assignments. Without them, they may not be able to have that homemade pizza on pita bread, or tacos on Tuesdays, or a grandma's desserts on Fridays.
But it hasn't always been this way.
Friends of Powell Butte School had formed in August of 2008 to collect $274,000 to keep the school open. They had borrowed $100,000 and needed to pay back the loan. Once that debt was paid off, the board's focus became a school lunch program.
When PBCCS opened as a public charter school in the fall of 2010, the 146 students brought their lunches to school.
"The parents started asking, 'Can we have a lunch program?' Of course no money in the school budget was allowed for it," recalls Kathy Eby, the treasurer of the Friends of Powell Butte School nonprofit organization and a longtime charter school supporter. "So, we had our little board meeting, and I said to the board members, 'I've never done anything like this, but I'm willing to try it. I know two things: It has to be run like a business, and I have to cook like my mom.'"
The Friends of Powell Butte School five-member board gave her the go-ahead, and the lunch program was born.
A handful of volunteers served lunch two days a week.
"I got a little bit of money each week for gasoline to go pick up supplies, and that's how it started," Eby says.
Since its humble beginnings in the fall of 2010, the lunch program has received no government funding or financial help from the school budget and thrives mainly on income from fundraisers and student account payments.
The following school year, Eby's granddaughter Bethany Auld began volunteering in the kitchen, and they hired two people to each work two days a week. Eby got a small stipend. They served lunch four days a week. Students brought their lunches each Monday.
Auld enjoyed volunteering at lunchtime. She had attended the school in the 1980s, and her daughter was a student there.
After a couple of years, both Eby and Auld moved on, leaving the lunch program in the hands of the board and a hired cook.
Auld moved out of state with her husband and daughter and worked in school kitchens for a couple different districts.
"It went upside-down quickly," Auld says of the three years she and her grandma were away from the Powell Butte lunch program.
"We had $17 in the bank account and $7,000 in grants in the savings account," Eby recalls of the spring of 2016, noting that a previous supporter had backed away.
"So I came back," Eby says. "We cleaned house, did some shakeup on the little board. I volunteered the last two weeks of that school year."
By then, Auld and her family had moved back home to Powell Butte.
The Friends of Powell Butte School board opened up the kitchen chef position, Auld applied, was a good candidate with her recent school cooking experience, and was hired.
Currently, the Friends of Powell Butte School board consists of chairperson Brae Runnels, secretary RaeAnna Neville, treasurer Kathy Eby, assistant treasurer in charge of accounts receivable Leslie Mott, school liaison Sarah Marsh, Will Dominguez and Maria Finley.
"Leslie does a great job at making sure the lunch accounts are paid. Will and his wife, Marie, volunteer faithfully each Monday. Maria volunteers on Fridays. Without this dedicated group, there would be no lunch program," Eby says.
As treasurer and founder, she oversees the program and makes sure it operates financially at its best.
"We pulled it out of the hole," Eby says. "I volunteer 20 to 25 hours a week. I oversee the lunch program, manage it, and order all the food. Bethany takes care of all the menus. She takes care of all the cooking."
The duo also gets help from Dalene Maykut, who works four days a week, as well as a group of trustworthy volunteers — mostly parents and grandparents of students.
"I could not do what I do without them all," Auld says. "We're like a family in this kitchen."
"I call it our therapy kitchen. We laugh a lot," her grandmother adds.
Eby praises her granddaughter's talent at creating entrees that the kids love.
"I could cook like my mom, and Beth's been taught — we go down the line — but this kid has the knack," Eby says. "She'll add different spices, different things to really make it taste good."
"My worst critics are children, and my best critics are children," Auld laughs. "I make sure to tell them all the time, 'Please be honest with me. I want to know if things are not right or if you would like to try something different — unless it's eating your vegetables, then you have to!'"
Today, the lunch program serves anywhere from 100 to 125 lunches five days a week. Families pay $2.50 a meal for kindergarten through second-graders and $3 for third through eighth-graders. Milk is an additional 50 cents.
Lunch includes a main course, vegetables and fruit.
"I try to do the best I can and make everything from scratch, and if I don't know how to make something, I ask either my mom helpers, grandma helpers, Grandma or Pinterest," Auld says. "I try to do a lot of casseroles, like enchiladas, and every Friday I try to do a breakfast for lunch."
Kids get to try egg bakes, quiche, biscuits and gravy, waffles and sausage, French toast bake, and ham and eggs. Auld also makes nachos, stew, potato soup, lasagna, chicken nuggets, goulash, hamburgers, tater tot casserole, pulled pork sandwiches, baked potatoes and even Coney Island Dogs.
"We have the family recipe for macaroni and cheese," Eby says.
"I use Big Ed's bread in Bend. He makes me a special pita bread," Auld adds. "I make pita pizzas, and I make all the sauces from scratch."
On Fridays, they get a special treat.
"One of my grandma helpers makes a dessert for Fridays, and we only serve chocolate milk on Fridays because it's a treat," Auld says.
They buy most of the food from Eberhards Dairy, High Desert Produce, Food Services of America, Cinder Butte Meat Company and Franz Bread Store. PBCCS families donate most of the beef.
The Central Oregon Ranch Supply's Annual Round Up and Trade Show is the second biggest fundraiser for the lunch program. This is the 10th year that PBCCS students and families have helped prepare and serve food for the event, which is held on the Malott Ranch in Powell Butte each September.
"We have to have the bazaar fundraiser, and we have to have Central Oregon Ranch, and we have to have our beef donated to sustain our program. Otherwise, we couldn't make it," Eby says.
The Christmas Bazaar was another one of Eby's ideas.
The community had to do a lot of fundraising in order to pay back the loan to keep the school open back in 2008. One fundraiser involved each class decorating a Christmas tree in a specific theme. The plan was to sell them during the Christmas program.
While organizing the tree decorating fundraiser, Eby had the idea of throwing together a last-minute Christmas bazaar. Someone else suggested a cookie buffet. Families donated crafts and dozens and dozens of cookies. Eby said that first bazaar was very successful, so they have continued the tradition.
The bazaar and cookie buffet is held each December on the day of the Christmas program.
This season, the students have been busy making projects for the bazaar, such as cocoa cones, snowmen ornaments, Tex Mix, decorative magnets, croutons, candy, and Cowboy Cornbread Mix. Families have donated various arts and crafts for the bazaar, and some big-ticket items will be raffled off.
So at 83 years old, why does Eby still put in so many hours as a school volunteer in addition to raising beefalo on her farm and fulfilling her roles with other community organizations?
"The older we get, we have to keep our minds active, and we have to keep our bodies moving," she says.
As for the Powell Butte lunch program, she feels she's met the challenge she put forth nine years ago of serving healthy, good food.
"Our lunch program is served with love," she says. "Every one of us that is involved here, we love these kids, and they know it. You can feel it."
10th Annual Christmas Bazaar
Supports the Friends of Powell Butte School lunch program
Date: 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 20
Place: Powell Butte Community Charter School cafeteria, 13650 SW Highway 126 in Powell Butte