Food is expensive -- and getting more so all the time, as a trip to any grocery store will attest.
But late last month the Monroe County School District fell into a great deal on more than $50,000 worth of ham, blueberries, broccoli and more.
In a nutshell, the U.S. Department of Agriculture offered the food to the district for free. All the district had to do was pay the $1,800 shipping cost and unload the food, which was perishable and frozen, in a timely manner.
Thanks to the efforts of both warehouse and maintenance workers, the windfall arrived in late May, and was promptly unpacked into the district's food warehouse on Trumbo Road.
"We normally don't get commodities from the government for our meals," said Monroe County Schools Food Service Supervisor Deb Stecklein. "We have an arrangement in place with the federal government where we get cash instead, which we then use to shop for food with. However, at the end of the school year, the state of Florida had extra commodities leftover, which they offered to our district.
"We ended up with 930 cases of food. Now we have a wonderful selection of food to start the school year with in August."
The shipment included high quality turkey breasts, frozen ground beef, ham, frozen peaches, blueberries and broccoli, according to Stecklein.
"I've been in this business a long time," she said. "Over 30 years. And I remember the days when people would make a face when you mentioned federal commodities. But they've improved their quality drastically. The meats are of the highest quality. The fruits and vegetables are of the highest quality. It's all superb stuff. We've started using it already, in fact. We served blueberries yesterday at our summer food program."
Stecklein had high praise for the district workers who unloaded the windfall and stacked it neatly in the warehouse freezer.
"They worked all day long," she said. "They worked right through lunch. They worked feverishly, because they knew we had to keep this stuff frozen. They were great."
School Board Chairman Andy Griffiths, who brought up the transaction at the most recent board meeting on Tuesday, also praised the workers.
"We should never miss the chance to acknowledge our employees who go above and beyond the call of duty," Griffiths said.