The women, part of the Holz Elementary School wellness committee, formed a fundraising group called Launching a New Lunch and raised $14,000 for the assessment.
"It was incredibly easy to raise that money," said Paige Payne, director of Charleston Montessori School. "People right away said, 'Oh, yes, we've got a problem. I'll contribute to that.'"
So, in October 2010, Turenne and two other chefs looked at Kanawha County school kitchens and menus and talked with cooks for a week. They met with the superintendent, school board members and food service director.
They pitched a two-part plan: (1) train cooks and educate teachers and kids at seven schools: start small, work out kinks, get recipes and suppliers, etc. then (2) roll it out to all 70 Kanawha County schools.
The price tag was $68,000 for the seven-school pilot. The 70-school rollout was $400,000. "But we told them the cost would be drastically less if their own people did the total-system training," Turenne said. "We do the pilot, they do the rest."
Don't skip the training, he warned. "The food is only one part of what must be done to succeed. You also need to train everyone and get buy-in from your cooks, students and administrators," he said.
"We offered to raise the money to pay for it," Hamilton said. "I stood before the board, and when Pete Thaw said, 'Mrs. Hamilton, have you come to ask us for money?' I said, 'No, I want to give you money. We just want your permission to raise money.'
"They never gave us permission," she said.
Asked why Kanawha County took no action, Thaw said, "Oh yeah, they brought in a chef from Timbuktu. It cost too much. It's that simple. It was too expensive."
Yes, he said, Launching a New Lunch offered to raise the money. "But we weren't sure the federal government would sign off. And these outfits never show you all their cards. They always have a hidden cost."
Meanwhile, the national Boy Scouts have hired Turenne's group to plan the food for Fayette County's new national Boy Scout Summit.
"It's really discouraging," Payne said. "We were willing to raise the money for the entire program, but it wasn't welcome. It's almost as if they fight not to change.
"They could have been in great position last fall. All that didn't need to happen."
All heck broke loose
In summer 2011, seven other counties -- Lincoln, Clay, Gilmer, Fayette, Mingo, Mason, McDowell -- volunteered for the state's school nutrition pilot project. They agreed to cook breakfast and lunch from scratch five days a week for a year, serve free breakfast and lunch to all students, and train all cooks.
Kanawha County was not included as a whole in the program, but one school, West Side Elementary, was.
In August, Cabell County cooks trained cooks from the pilot counties. They taught them tricks of healthy cooking for hundreds of kids. "We went home and duplicated the training for all our cooks," Mingo County food services director Kay Maynard said. "When school started, we were ready to go, with recipes we knew kids would like."
There have been no protests in those counties. Instead, the number of students eating breakfast has nearly doubled. They brought in more than a million extra federal dollars in the first four months.
In Kanawha County, after the administration ordered cooks to cook from scratch, "all heck broke loose," Hamilton recalled.
Thaw keeps claiming the federal government made Kanawha County do it. "Absolutely not," said James Harmon, regional director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "We don't dictate how the meal is prepared."
Did the state make them do it? "No," said Rick Goff, director of the state Office of Child Nutrition. "We would not have wanted them to do it without training the cooks."
All that's in the past, says Superintendent Duerring, and it's "time to turn the page." Gary Cochran, the former food service director, resigned.
"We've advertised for a new Child Nutrition Director. We have qualified applicants and hope to hire soon," Duerring said.
The school board has added $20,000 to the director's salary, bringing it up to about $82,000 to run the $18 million program. "We want to hire somebody good," Duerring said. "The state wants us to cook more from scratch and wants more healthy foods, and so do we."
Next summer, Kanawha County will send some cooks to the state's cooking camp, he said. "But to get all 70 schools trained is a big initiative, so we'll have to do other trainings to reach all of our cooks. It can't happen overnight, but it will happen."
Reach Kate Long at katel...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1798.
"The Shape We're In" was written with the help of the Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism, administered by the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.