you're reading...

Cornelius News

Feeding CMS kids: It’s almost like feeding an army

Greet O’Brien / Photo by Dave Vieser

Aug.5. By Dave Vieser. When Cornelius resident Greet O’Brien joined Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools Nutrition Services back in 2008, she would have no way of knowing that her steady hand and experience in food service preparation would turn out to be a lifesaver for families this year during the COVID-19 pandemic.

O’Brien was one of just three production kitchen managers in the entire school system during the summer.

During normal years she oversees the preparation of balanced meals to be delivered to income eligible children throughout the Huntersville/Cornelius area during summer when schools are closed.

This year, the program started very early and quite suddenly.

“We actually started as soon as the schools shut down on March 15,” O’Brien said. “We knew there were a lot of children in the community who, without school meals, would go hungry.”

O’Brien and her staff of 14 full-timers and 10 volunteers provided the children with lunch for each day and breakfast for the following day. The meals were prepared at Blythe Elementary School, where O’Brien works during the school year, and delivered to the homes every morning.

They have prepared and delivered 144,000 meals from this location since the pandemic began.

The funds for the food preparation are provided by the federal government through a program administered through the NC Department of Public Instruction, according to her supervisor Cathy Beam. “CMS is reimbursed for the cost of the meals served to eligible children.

Children up to age 18 receive free meals through the program and all meals meet nutrition standards based on federal guidelines, Beam said.

The food preparation is one part of the process, coupled with delivery to the family homes. O’Brien says her team of volunteers, led by Manny Rosado, do a fabulous job getting the food out to the families.

One of her more memorable experiences was a day in July when she rode with Rosado and his drivers to deliver the meals.

“To see how happy the children are to see us coming was unbelievable. They ran to meet us with big smiles on their faces. It just warmed my heart to see this,” she said.

Needless to say, the coronavirus has meant new restrictions on the CMS team as they prepare the meals.

“We have taken all the precautions possible to protect our employees and families. We, of course wear masks and gloves and are constantly sanitizing our work stations. So far—knock on wood—we have not had anyone get sick here,” she said.

Its quite a stretch for the 59 year old native of Dingle, Ireland. She moved to New York when she was 33, spending several years on Long Island running her own restaurant.

“That was a huge adjustment coming from such a small Irish town with just a 1,000 residents. But we enjoyed the New York life..at least for a while,” she said.

She actually lived in NY for 13 years with her former husband and two sons, Simon and Robert, where a third son, James, was born.

Then came a move south.

Today, O’Brien has settled into a townhome in the Harborside development off West Catawba.

There will surely be more work adjustments ahead as the district prepares for the Plan B-Plus in-person/remote school schedule in a matter of weeks.

Greet says her team is up to the challenge. And Beam, her supervisor, has glowing words about O’Brien. “Greet takes great pride in providing quality, nutritious meals and great service to our customers.”