Chef Newell bacon cookies

Courier file photo

OTTUMWA — With the availability of a large commercial kitchen that wasn’t being utilized, Chef Bob Newell found a way to put it to good use while schools are closed due to COVID-19.

Wanting to do something to help during the crisis, Bridge View Center’s certified executive chef said he called Ottumwa Superintendent Nicole Kooiker Monday to offer his services to help feed students as lockdowns continue due to the pandemic. “I thought, ‘Let’s do what’s supposed to be done,’” he said.

Kooiker put him in touch with the YMCA in order to coordinate an emergency food distribution program for those age 2-18 that will begin distribution Monday.

“The YMCA already had this program in place for a summer meal program,” said Rich Thompson, sales and marketing manager at BVC. “It’s the same concept. Now they came up with an emergency services food program. We’re just helping the YMCA facilitate everything.”

Both Thompson and Newell pointed to the size of Bridge View’s kitchen compared to the YMCA’s kitchen. “You could probably fit their kitchen four or five times inside mine,” Newell said. “We’ve got the space and the equipment for that type of production. I figured we might as well use it; it’s sitting empty anyway.”

Newell said the plan is to keep the meals, which will come in the form of a sack lunch, simple. They also have to follow both the school nutritional guidelines as well as guidelines from the American Culinary Federation. Most meals will consist of a sandwich, a fruit and some type of grain, he said.

Volunteers will be brought in to pack the meals. But there are precautions that will have to be followed. Newell said volunteers will have to go through a background check and temperatures will be taken daily. Volunteers will be in small groups to stay under the limits of gatherings, and paperwork will need to be filled out each day. Then the work of preparing food will get going.

“We’re looking at potentially 1,000 meals per day between lunch and dinner is kind of what we set our sights on,” Newell said. “We’ll be flexible and go up or down as we need.”

Food will then be stored in the BVC kitchen for distribution, and the building will also serve as a pickup site.

“We have a plan going up to April 10,” said Thompson. “If we have to continue, we’ll just follow [the YMCA’s] lead.”

“It’s the right thing to do,” said Newell. “I just want to help and do what I can for whoever I can offer assistance to, and right now, the kids seem to be a major focus.

“I want to make sure the kids that don’t get anything to eat except for at school get taken care of.”

Features Editor Tracy Goldizen can be reached via email at tgoldizen@ottumwacourier.com or followed on Twitter @CourierTracy.

Features Editor Tracy Goldizen can be reached via email at tgoldizen@ottumwacourier.com or followed on Twitter @CourierTracy.

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Tracy Goldizen is the Courier's features and magazine editor, leading production of the award-winning "Ottumwa Life" and the Courier's other magazine offerings. She began work with the Courier on the copy desk.

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