How Colleen Reinen keeps young adults at Operation Fresh Start nourished and ready to conquer school or the work site.
September 1st marks Colleen Reinen’s 19th anniversary working as Operation Fresh Start’s Food Production Coordinator. Her work is incredibly important to the organization, ensuring participants have the nourishment and energy to complete their school work and keep up their stamina on the construction or conservation work site.
Colleen and Assistant Cook Karen Erickson prepare about 50 meals per day. OFS staff can also eat in the cafeteria, for a very affordable fee.
Participants and staff have access to breakfast, a hot meal for lunch or a bag lunch (if their crew is on a worksite that’s far away from the OFS building). Fresh fruit and milk is available for snacking at any time of the day.
The OFS Kitchen Menu
“The menu consists of many different types of foods,” says Colleen. “I keep it creative, healthy and introduce different ethnicities that one may cringe at — and then come back to tell me how much they really liked it.”
The most-requested meal at OFS is Colleen’s tater tot casserole. The taco bar is also popular. Some personal favorites that stick out in my mind are Colleen’s summer salad (spinach, chicken, strawberry, blueberry and slivered almonds with feta cheese, drizzled in balsamic vinaigrette), peanut butter and jelly drumsticks, and corned beef sandwiches for St. Patrick’s Day. Colleen and Karen also prepare a feast for Thanksgiving.
Getting Creative to Overcome Rising Food Costs
When Colleen started working at OFS, she brought with her 17 years of food production, catering and business dining skills. She didn’t really know what to expect at OFS and has had to deal with limited budgets and equipment.
In 2020, Colleen had to cope with the additional challenges of supply chain issues at the height of the pandemic. She pivoted to making individually-packaged meals. Today, she says the organization is still dealing with the rising costs of food and packaging products.
“But being creative and innovative, I get the gratitude of creating a meal that can help feed someone who may not have the resources to get a nutritional meal that day,” says Colleen.
Leftover meals are packaged up and placed in a glass door cooler that was donated by the United Way. Those meals are free for participants to take home for dinner or over the weekend.
“Throughout the years, participants and staff have expressed their gratitude for the breakfast and lunches that are offered. That is what inspires me to work at OFS for all this time,” says Colleen.
As OFS expands programming, food demands and cold storage needs will increase. Colleen says the organization needs a commercial stove, hot holding cabinets and a commercial slicer.
If you’re interested in helping OFS meet growing food production needs, please contact Jody Weyers, Development Director: