The Condiment Specialist (Part III)

Tyler Kish, 10, the Condiment Specialist.  

Vernonia's Stories: Part III

Vernonia may be just a small town in Northwestern Oregon, but the little logging community has hosted the hugely successful Vernonia Summer Meal Program for the past five years, thanks to the big hearts of its residents.

We recently stopped by the site to see it in action and to learn a little more about its volunteers, whose efforts make such a program possible. 

This is the third story in a series about the Vernonia Summer Meal Program.

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Even on pizza day, arguably the busiest day of the week for the Vernonia Summer Meal Program team, the food line runs like clockwork. A procession of diners file smoothly along from the salad bar, to the entree station, and through beverage selection, all because of volunteers like Tyler Kish, 10, who facilitate the operation.

“I wash the dishes and help with the condiments,” he says, straightening with pride to display the yellow words stitched across the front of his apron: Vernonia Summer Meal Program. After three summers of volunteering with his mother and sister, Tyler has learned to tie the strings just so.

Armed with clear plastic gloves and a rag, he meticulously wipes down the water dispenser that sits at the end of the food line. Tyler contends with the endless beads of sweat that drip down the sides of the beverage container in the summer heat. Nearby, the condiment bottles -- ketchup, mustard, ranch, and homemade Italian dressing -- sit in their ice bath, dribble free because of his attention.

“We need kids, like Tyler, to get excited,” says DeAnna Pearl, the site’s volunteer grants and media coordinator. “We tell him he is valuable, what he does important. We ask his opinion. He has his own workflow.”

One would never guess from his meticulous work that Tyler was only a fifth grader. As lunchtime draws to a close, he takes up a spray bottle and turns to the dining tables. He describes that the best parts about his job as he wipes down the tabletops. These include seeing his friends from school and making new friends as a part of this team.

“And,” he says with a shy smile, “the free food.”

To learn more about Vernonia's Summer Meal Program, visit their Facebook page.

To find a Summer Meal site near you, go to summerfoodoregon.org.

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Be sure to check out Part IPart II, and Part IV of our blog series on Vernonia's Summer Meal Program.