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New Café Brings Pizza, Salad and Equity By Lucy Tobier with lily mccready, phoTOS BY CY Veilleux AND ELLA ROSENWARNE

On Feb. 28, trays of cookies, pizza and smoothies whirled around Community’s first floor as the CHS jazz musicians played their hearts out. The soiree was to celebrate the grand opening of the Community Café. The new café is not just a new place to grab a quick snack or a drink, it is also an important addition for CHS to make the school more accessible and affordable to all.

There has long been a problem with receiving affordable lunch at CHS. Before the café, Community was the only Ann Arbor Public School (AAPS) to not have a functioning kitchen. 10 years ago, lunches were brown-bagged meals handed out in the office. Dean Marci Tuzinski and her predecessor Jen Hein worked to improve conditions and eventually, hot lunch was trucked over from the bigger, local schools. This, although certainly an improvement, left a bit to be desired as the food quality suffered from the truck rides and the breakfast remained bagged meals that lacked nutritional value.

Although Community is surrounded by a plethora of restaurants and options, it is not reasonable for most students to spend over $10 a day on lunch. The abundance of food but lack of affordability creates what Assistant Dean Rebecca Westrate calls a “food desert.”

“I really hope that it does attract people who want to have a healthy and really good meal as part of their daily high school experience, but don't have $12 or $15 every single day to go to a café and get something,” said Jenna Bacolor, the executive director for the AAPS wellness division. Bacolor is a supervisor of Angela Demetriou, the district wellness coordinator, who was a driving force in the CHS lunchroom project. Demetriou has spent the past 22 months working on the Community Café. When she first visited the lunchroom space at CHS Demetriou knew she wanted to change the environment of the room and overall quality of the lunches available. At every school in the AAPS district, Demetriou tries to create lunchrooms with a welcoming, warm atmosphere.

"What we love about this beautiful location is that it brings together that idea of health, wellness and well being, through what we eat, and also through those relationships that you enjoy with folks here at Community," - Superintendent Jeanice Swift

“I believe that nutrition is not just about food, it’s spiritual, it’s physical,” Demetriou said. “So I assess, and try to make the school lunchrooms more of a positive and chilling place to be.”

Bacolor, Demetriou and Superintendent Jeanice Swift were all in attendance to enjoy the festivities and celebrate the official opening of the Community Café with a ribbon-cutting.

Community’s café is special because it was designed to reflect Community and its students. Many took part in a survey that went around to gauge food preferences. The school worked hard with Chartwells, the AAPS food provider, to create a menu as special as Community. The team also had to work around Community’s space constraints to build a cafeteria that could fit. The menu is more “build it yourself” with DIY pizzas, salad and subs, as well as à la carte items for on-the-go dining.

Samples of sandwiches in the first floor hallway for students. During the opening, there were many samples available so students could taste offerings and become more familiar with what is available.

The café also fits more with Community’s schedule, says Westrate. The café is open throughout the day, versus other school lunchrooms that are only open for fragments of the day. This fits with Community’s block schedule and provides food for students who might have a free block or come in later. Students don’t even have to buy food to eat in the space, they can bring food from home and heat it up there. It is not just a place to buy food, it is a student hang out and meeting space.

Westrate believes that providing a space for Community students to eat together is important for upholding Community’s beliefs. “Food is what brings people together,” Westrate said. “We eat at staff meetings together, I've never worked in a building like that, forums eat lunch together. It's just a big part of who we are because it creates that fellowship and that common shared ground.”

Superintendent Swift delivering the opening remarks before the ribbon was cut. Swift is excited about the positive effects of the café and what can be done with it in the future. "I am so excited to have a small role in opening this great place where you can not only eat, but you can hang out with others," Swift said in her speech.

Although the café was a long time coming, it finally got done this year because of a dedicated group of people and funds from the 2017 millage. “We got a person who was really passionate and was willing to see it through,” Bacolor said. “Through all the different twists and turns of doing a project like this. I think people had been sort of stuck before with the challenge of the space and so having this team of people really work through those challenges. It was just the right time for it to happen.”

Finding and building the space was not easy in such a small school, not initially designed to hold a cafeteria. The jazz program was very generous and agreed to give up what had previously been their designated room to the café. It also was hard to build a café practically from the ground up. There was no previous food prep infrastructure and the group working on it had to hire an architect, meet all of the codes, install new air conditioning, refrigeration, furniture and more. But ultimately, it was worth it to put in the extra effort to make the space beautiful.

Carmela, a representative from Chartwells, serves pizza samples to student RayLonda Dukes. Students got free lunch and snacks during the opening.

“The ultimate goal was not just to have more options for food, but also to have a space that students could feel comfortable and have for their own during lunch, and not just have to be wherever in the building, but have a space where they could go,” Westrate said.

Bacolor and Swift hope to continue to grow and expand the café. They are interested in doing a student test tasting to gauge student’s palates and preferences on new menu items. They are also hoping to offer a Community Resource class, yet another way that this café has been personalized to Community. This would allow students who are interested in the culinary arts or running a food service to learn and prepare for a future career.

Superintendent Swift is also working on an idea to have a food truck at Community occasionally to provide another option for affordable, healthy food. “You guys (students) already have lots of great choices, but it's just so expensive for kids to be eating out in the day,” Swift said. “So we want to have good nutrition available to everyone, regardless of their financial or personal situation.”.