FE&S Kitchen Storage Makeover Winner Harborcreek Youth Services: How a dated kitchen space at a nonprofit facility turned into an efficient, well-organized workspace with a purpose.
The staff at Harborcreek Youth Services (HYS) face all the same challenges as traditional middle school and high school teachers, and then some. Students, who are also residents, all come from either a background of trauma or have a need for residential behavioral health services. In addition to the psychiatric treatment provided, the Harborcreek, Pa., facility ensures residents also continue down an educational pathway. The 72 male residents, aged 10 to18 years old, attend classes daily and follow an educational curriculum in line with Pennsylvania public school guidelines.
As one might expect of this kind of facility, the 125-person staff bring a lot of joy and energy to the hallways, classrooms, residential units, cafeteria, and every other space on campus. Staff here wear many hats, and their connection to the work goes far beyond a paycheck. Many staffers themselves have dealt with difficult circumstances, which prompted their mission to serve others.
Some staff work very long hours, which is how colleagues describe Colleen Daisley, MSN, RN, director of nursing, compliance officer at HYS. Her colleagues jokingly discuss bringing a cot for her office since she’s often there late at night; at that same time they also enjoy her daily arrival on campus in her trademark high heels ready to tackle the day.
Daisley’s daily routine covers the gamut of nursing functions, including COVID-19 vaccinations and issues, developing and monitoring facility policies such as visitations, and overseeing the foodservice program. She meets with the kitchen manager daily. In addition to student feeding, staff can purchase a meal for $2. In the last 6 months, an average of roughly 800 meals were served to staff.
The real challenge has always been less about the quantity of meals served and more about the functionality of the space used to prepare and serve those meals.
It’s a common tale amongst foodservice operators of all types: Financial resources tend to gravitate first toward front-facing elements, and upgrading kitchen components generally falls to the back burner. The HYS kitchen manager, Bonnie Felton, found an opportunity to evoke change with the FE&S Kitchen Storage Makeover contest. She enlisted the help of Amanda Karns, special projects coordinator at HYS, to enter, and their efforts earned HYS a kitchen assessment and redesign of the space. The newly improved space opened its doors Oct. 7.
Sadly, Felton died unexpectedly prior to hearing the news that HYS won the contest. Her influence, however, will never be forgotten. The newly reorganized and refreshed kitchen was dedicated in her honor, and HYS plans to add a plaque in remembrance of her dedication to the children and the facility.
Beyond the contest that helped change the functionality of the kitchen space, Daisley also credits Felton for changing the working relationship between HYS and its contract foodservice provider. That relationship “improved a thousandfold when she became general manager,” Daisley says. “She had the heart for the kids, and winning this contest wouldn’t have happened without her.”
Harborcreek Youth Services Adapts its Model
The Harborcreek Youth Services of 2021 functions vastly differently than at any other point in its 115-year-old history. The mission, however, remains true to its origins of helping youth.
The institution has transitioned over the years from a children’s home (once colloquially known as an orphanage) to a place for troubled juveniles (youth came to the facility from the Erie County Juvenile Court) to what is now a model agency for comprehensive behavioral health. CEO John Petulla had the vision for a greater need for behavioral health services that guides the facility today. The makeup of the resident population today revolves around boys aged 10 to 18 in need of trauma and behavioral health services; the facility no longer accepts the more severe cases within the juvenile justice system.
Another change in 2021 was HYS’ transition to an independent, self-governing nonprofit facility, which ended its affiliation with a Catholic charity.
Normalizing Healthy Eating
Having a heart for the kids is what drives many of the HYS staff. It’s more common than not for students to arrive at HYS with some degree of food insecurity. “Maybe they have never had enough food in their life, or never had regularity with meals or never had healthy food,” says Karns. Hiding food and taking it back to their room are routine behaviors among new residents.
Being at HYS changes the narrative for students when it comes to consistency in receiving food. “Here, they know they will receive breakfast, lunch, dinner and two snacks every day,” says Karns. They can also ask for a second helping at meal times. That regularity, she explains, establishes that a basic human need — food — will be met, which in turn helps the transition to stability in terms of emotional safety, physical safety, psychological well-being and more. “It’s all intertwined,” Karns adds. “Food fits into that.”
In essence, the food philosophy at HYS centers on normalizing healthy eating. “We need to make them comfortable with healthy food and regular meals,” says Daisley. In addition to the push toward healthy eating, Daisley works with the kitchen staff to manage intake for the 90% of the kids who are on medication at HYS. She monitors how different medications may impact metabolism and nutrition and works to stabilize intake.
While HYS continues to follow all the standard school nutrition guidelines, Daisley has introduced the HYS Wellness Champions program to promote overall wellness, nutrition education and regular physical activity. She’s happy to also work with students on individual goals surrounding wellness, such as losing weight.
Kelly Blaney of Metz Culinary Management joined the HYS staff as kitchen manager in July 2021. Metz is the contract feeder that manages the foodservice operations at HYS. Blaney knew she was walking into a difficult situation as Felton’s replacement, but she has since formed her own close connections with the HYS staff. “Kelly fits right in,” says Daisley.
With a background in long-term care, Blaney says working in a residential facility came with both a sense of comfort and some new challenges. Two notable kitchen challenges were a few missing pieces of equipment she was accustomed to having on hand, like a toaster, and the much smaller and dated kitchen space she inherited.
So it was welcome news for Blaney to hear a kitchen refresh was on the way. The makeover process started with an on-site assessment of the space, which then guided the design and specifications for new storage components to optimize the kitchen space. “They asked what I wanted,” she says, “and I was happy to give them a list, but ultimately what I wanted was to take less steps to get the food where it needs to go, and then back through to the dish space. If things are in the proper flow, for example a prep cooler next to the prep table, you are not walking around the entire kitchen to accomplish one task. Fewer steps equal more productivity.”
The HYS project faced some additional challenges, including it being an older building with legacy items throughout the kitchen and a lack of sufficient storage and prep space.
After the assessment, a new layout for the space was developed, including items that would better optimize the roughly 800-square-foot main kitchen area. In addition to the items provided as part of the makeover, HYS invested in a new, custom walk-in cooler. This replaced a makeshift cooler that was originally converted from an extra storage room. “The walk-in cooler had been on the HYS agenda for a while, it just kind of ended up on the back burner as other items moved up in priority,” says Karns. “The contest helped pull the trigger — a bit of a snowball effect. HYS saw the value in putting that extra into the makeover.”
The makeover team outfitted the new walk-in cooler with track shelving to make accessing ingredients easier for staff. The addition of the walk-in reduced the number of reach-in refrigerators needed in the main kitchen area from three to one, which in turn created additional space for prep and dry food storage in the primary workspace. The reach-in cooler that remained in the main kitchen space now serves as a prep cooler. “When staff cut fruit and veggies now, it goes in the prep cooler right away,” says Blaney, “so it’s all dished up and ready to go.”
New items in the main kitchen space include a heavy-duty, stainless steel worktable, shelving units and polymer dunnage racks that create a designated place for deliveries. Nearby, the addition of a gravity-fed can rack keeps product within close reach. With the same close-at-hand functionality in mind, a utility cart next to the cookline now houses all large pots and various cooking utensils and common cooking items, such as oil. From an efficiency standpoint, that has proven to be a big improvement, Blaney says, as staff have easy access to what they need on the cookline.
Adjacent to the main kitchen prep space and cookline, niche stations now exist for the different components that support the HYS foodservice team’s specific approach to serving meals: a defined area that houses all spices and includes a worktop, a custom wall shelving piece that primarily stores smallwares, and a bakery area that houses small equipment such as mixers.
In the dish area, staff benefit from the addition of a drying rack and wall shelving to keep things organized and efficient. The wet nesting system specifically was a game changer for Blaney as pans now go on the rack wet, then dry on the rack, where they remain. “I had the biggest grin when I saw the drying racks,” she says. “It saves so much time to let the pans dry and store in the same spot. It’s much more efficient.”
The dry storage room, measuring approximately 400 square feet, offered a chance to reconsider the way staff handle deliveries, namely moving to a visual inventory system. That process starts when boxes arrive. Blaney received some tips on this process from the makeover team, starting with reinforcing that when boxes come in from the delivery process, that’s where the bugs and dirt live, and when staff put a dirty box on a shelving system, that simply transports dirt. New storage components in this 400-square-foot room include insulated carriers on dollies, which will make catering events easier, shelving units around the perimeter of the space and a utility cart.
To follow visual inventory protocol, HYS staff will now unpack the boxes and place inventory on shelves to eliminate the dirt and potential bug problem. That method in turn creates an easy way for managers to quickly see which items are running low.
One month after the makeover, the foodservice team was still thrilled. “Everything is right where we need it now,” says Blaney. “it’s all in easy access.” She notes that now she never has to hunt around for what she needs. “All the shelving in the walk-in is a lifesaver,” she says. “I now have one rack that’s for beverage, one that’s for meat and cheeses … I never have to hunt around.”
In fact, Blaney reports that everyone in the building wanted a kitchen tour, including some of the students who helped move larger pieces of equipment around to accommodate the installation. “Everyone wanted to see what all the fuss was about,” she says. “The kitchen hasn’t had much of a facelift in quite some time. Everyone was amazed.”
Karns says she didn’t really know what to expect when the news came that HYS won the contest. “This is way more than I thought,” she says.” I thought it would look like our old kitchen with a few new gadgets; this looks like a whole new kitchen.”
Progress has also been made on a few additional pieces of equipment Blaney wanted, including the purchase of a slicer, which means no more presliced, frozen lunch meat. HYS also applied for a grant to purchase a steamer, which would allow staff to steam-cook vegetables. The acquisition of a toaster is still in the works.
On top of all that, news of the makeover spread beyond the walls of HYS; the makeover story was covered by a local Erie television station. The two-part news series walked viewers through the “before” and “after.” Rest assured, the staff at HYS are thrilled with the results and say the changes went beyond what they expected. “Having the proper workflow is critical,” Blaney says, noting that even for the small staff of five, it has made a huge difference. “Everything’s within arm’s reach now. It saves time, and it saves staff energy, which means they can focus more on putting out a quality product. It’s a happier, more cohesive space.”
Could Your Kitchen Use A Makeover?
Nominations are open for the 2022 Kitchen Storage Makeover Contest. Visit fesmag.com/ksm for more details and to enter.