Dishin’ it out: Food and friendship at all ages

Story and photos by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg

McKenzie Bovard, food service director for the Seaside school district, takes a moment for a photo outside of Gearhart Elementary near Seaside, Ore., Jan. 15, 2015. Bovard is the idea-head behind the successful Dishin’ it Out program, which invites Coast Guard personnel to volunteer in elementary school cafeterias. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg.

McKenzie Bovard, food service director for the Seaside school district, takes a moment for a photo outside of Gearhart Elementary near Seaside, Ore., Jan. 15, 2015.

The cafeteria at Gearhart Elementary near Seaside, Oregon, resembles a busy beehive. Children scurry to and fro, form an organized line behind the serving counter, get their lunch and then buzz to their tables full of friends and peers. Their focus is mostly trained on food and socializing, but during one particular week, it is trained on their unusual guests and servers: the uniformed men and women of the Coast Guard.

For the last two years, Coast Guardsmen stationed at units in Astoria, Oregon, have devoted hours of their workweek to visiting multiple elementary schools in the area. This event, aptly named “Dishin’ It Out” gives Coast Guard members the opportunity to not only make the day special for the students, but to also educate children about service, make lasting impressions and friends in the community.

“The idea was to bring in a hero in uniform to serve the children food,” said McKenzie Bovard, the food service director for the Seaside school district and brains behind the Dishin’ it Out event. “It is a change of pace from the norm and with the amount of positive feedback we have received from both the Coast Guard and the school district, we want to do it again next year. It can only grow from here and the kids love it so much.”

Petty Officer 2nd Class Daniel Bovard, an aviation maintenance technician at Coast Guard Air Station Astoria, Ore., serves lunch to the students at Gearhart Elementary School near Seaside, Ore., Jan. 15, 2015. Bovard, like many other Coast Guardsmen, dedicated many hours of his workweek to visit the schools, serve lunch to the children and talk with them about the Coast Guard. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Daniel Bovard, an aviation maintenance technician at Coast Guard Air Station Astoria, Ore., serves lunch to the students at Gearhart Elementary School near Seaside, Ore., Jan. 15, 2015.

Bovard explained that this year’s Coast Guard volunteer count rose more than 50 percent over the previous year’s numbers. Additionally, lunch attendance by students and parents also increases exponentially during the Dishin’ It Out event.

After each class gets settled into their table with their trays of food, the Coast Guardsmen visit with the students. During that time, they answer any questions the kids may have about the Coast Guard and talk to them about their studies and interests. The main topics of conversation, besides the Coast Guard, include nocturnal flying mammals, dinosaurs and comparisons between the real Coast Guard and the Lego Coast Guard.

“Whenever we can get positive role models around the students, it is really beneficial for them and it has lasting effects throughout the week,” said Jullian Wozniak, the principal at Gearhart Elementary. “It is very important that they have goals for their future, to know that the Coast Guard is an option for them, even at this age.”

At Gearhart Elementary, Coast Guardsmen are dishin’ out more than just healthy food. They’re also dishin’ out inspiration and friendship.

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