MILTON-FREEWATER -- Paper chef's hat in place and apron neatly tied, City Manager Linda Hall secured a place by the fruits and vegetables to greet Grove Elementary School students on their lunch break.
"I love your hair!" Hall said to a boy sporting a mohawk as she placed a scoop of steamed corn on his lunch tray.
Hall, and City Council president Orrin Lyon, were special guests at Grove on Thursday as part of the district's new "Serving up Smiles" program.
District Food Service Director Lynn Fluharty said the program was developed as a way to introduce people in the community to district schools and their students.
"We just wanted to have them see what we do in our schools," Fluharty said, noting that for some, visiting a school can sometimes feel daunting. "We wanted to bridge that."
The lunch hour lent itself well to the program, since all the school's students eventually make their way through the cafeteria.
"This is the best time that they can visit with the kids," Fluharty said.
In all, 10 community members volunteered for "Serving up Smiles" over Wednesday and Thursday. Several guests visited with students for lunch Wednesday at Central Middle School and McLoughlin High School, while Thursday was a day to mingle with and serve students at the district's three elementary schools.
At Grove Elementary, Hall and Lyon were presented with personalized aprons, decorated festively for the Christmas holiday, as well as the chef's hats. A few children from each school were given the chance to adorn the aprons for each of their distinguished guests prior to their arrival.
"That's our thank you for coming in," Fluharty said.
Thursday's outreach was aided by a festive menu, the district's "holiday feast" of turkey with gravy, mashed potatoes and stuffing, a dinner roll, and an assortment of fruits and vegetables at the salad bar.
"We have a rainbow salad bar every day for them," Fluharty said. The orange slices, cranberries, olives, carrots, salad greens and steamed corn did indeed make a rainbow of colors, along with an ambrosia salad that was offered as the feast's dessert.
Hall served orange wedges and corn to students for a while, before sitting at tables with them. Hall said she was happy to volunteer for the day's activity.
"It sounded like a lot of fun," she said. "The chance to be around kids puts you in the holiday spirit."
For Lyon, the day was another chance to see his granddaughter, a Grove student, and also greet children from his neighborhood. Lyon said he saw much to be proud of in the cafeteria.
"I'm impressed with the quality of the food, and the organization of the kids," Lyon said. "They're very well-behaved."
Hall was equally impressed with the students and the variety of their food choices.
"This has come a long way since my days in grade school," Hall said.
Milton-Freewater's public elementary schools are part of the Team Nutrition initiative of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, and have committed to healthier eating and habits. Jellied cranberries were offered as the featured produce of the month.
Although many children were still reluctant to try more veggies and fruits -- the cranberries sat mostly untouched -- the encouragement was not lacking.
"It's making a difference for them to make healthy eating habits now," Hall said.
Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8317. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/schoolhousemissives.