District 203 approves OrganicLife as new food service provider


Jay Deegan

Aramark employees cook stir fry to be served to Central students on May 2. Aramark is set to be replaced by OrganicLife as District 203’s food service provider on July 1, 2023.

Jake Pfeiffer, News Editor & Copy Editor

District 203’s Board of Education approved the selection of OrganicLife as the district’s new food service provider at their meeting on April 17. 

OrganicLife was one of four companies that placed a bid to become D203’s next service provider. The company will replace the district’s current provider, Aramark, on July 1, 2023.

Illinois school districts are required by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to seek new bids for food service providers every five years. District 203 was originally set to seek a new bid in 2020, but due to COVID-19 allowances, the district was able to extend its contract with Aramark into 2023.

The ISBE also requires districts that participate in the National School Lunch Program to select the lowest bid they are offered, as long as the bidder meets all of a district’s individual requirements.

“We have to set up these criteria to understand if [a company has] the manpower, finances and experience to serve our account,” said Melanie Brown, District 203 Director of Finances and Support Services. “Can they be sustainable? Do they have experience with the National School Lunch Program? All of these things helped me and my team determine if these vendors actually qualify. So while they may have a good price, if they can’t fulfill the needs of the contract, they can’t be awarded the bid.”

Two new requirements were added by the district for 2023: vendors needed to supply 100% white meat chicken and recyclable or biodegradable disposable products. 

A group of four Central students have been working on a project in their Peace and Conflict Studies class centering around Central’s lunches. The group has advocated for the district to leave the National School Lunch Program in order to have more choice in what provider serves meals.

“Though it may be too late to reconsider the bidding process this year, we urge you in the future to look at more than just the price, and to consider how the needs of all parties, including students, can be better met,” junior group member Natalie Richards said in a public comment at the board’s April 3 meeting.

Changes to the way school lunches are currently served are possible, but most of the specifics of OrganicLife’s services for 203 have yet to be determined. Menus have also not been set, although OrganicLife provides sample menus on their website for customers to have an idea of what they may be served.

“Sick of our kids eating processed, often times unrecognizable lunches, we sought to focus on all things good- whole grains, fruits and veggies, and proper balance,” OrganicLife’s website reads. “We cook the traditional, classic foods, but we make them better- better quality, better tasting, better for you.”

The new contract marks the end of the district’s eight years with Aramark as  its food provider.

“We’re grateful for the relationship we had with Aramark,” said Alex Mayster, District 203 Director of Communications. “I feel like

OrganicLife is set to become District 203’s new food service provider on July 1, 2023.                                                                   CREDIT: organiclifeusa.com

 everyone in the district thinks they did a really good job. I think we’re proud of the food that we’ve been giving our kids and what Aramark brought to the district.”

Sophomore Jalen Isom, one of Richards’ Peace and Conflict Studies group members, evaluated Aramark’s record differently.

“Some of the food was cold, the milk was chunky,” Isom said. “Our students are tired of it. We [conducted] surveys, and most of our students leave school for lunch instead of eating here. [When we saw Aramark’s contract was up,] we were like ‘let’s try to push for a new contract, because obviously the school provider can do way better.’”

Isom said that he thought OrganicLife’s offerings looked better than Aramark’s, although his group is attempting to work with the district and the company in order to sample and give feedback on OrganicLife’s food.

 “I think that student input should be more valued and more appreciated [in this process],” Isom said. 

OrganicLife’s full service will begin on the first day of the 2023 school year.

“Once the school year is up and running, [OrganicLife has]an opportunity to showcase themselves as a new vendor,” Brown said. “I know they’re very excited to be here.”