Every weekday morning, Lori Beatham puts on an apron and gloves, then helps feed 2,000 children.
Beatham is one of five cooks at Portland Public Schools’ Central Kitchen.
The Riverside facility provides meals for students at nine of the city’s elementary schools – including Peaks Island and Cliff Island schools – and Casco Bay High School.
The meals are prepared one day in advance, plated and sealed in disposable trays, and cooled. The next morning, they’re shipped to individual schools by delivery truck, then reheated in the school cafeterias where they are sold to students for less than $3 each.
Central Kitchen employs 12 people, including two delivery drivers.
An average of 15 percent to 20 percent of the produce is locally sourced, said Jane McLucas, the district’s food service director.
Beatham has worked in the kitchen for 2½ years. Previously, she worked as a food and beverage manager at the Hilton Garden Inn. She prefers the school job because it’s far less stressful.
The Portland resident performs two jobs within the school district. After working for six hours at Central Kitchen in the morning, she then spends two hours serving lunch at Lincoln Middle School. The average pay of food service assistants in Cumberland County schools is $15 per hour.
On a recent morning, Beatham sliced 150 pounds of tri-colored peppers and mashed 500 pounds of potatoes. Despite the massive quantities, she said it’s not daunting to prepare so many meals.
It is, however, surprisingly physical work. According to a digital step tracker, she walks an average of six miles every day within the sprawling Central Kitchen and an additional three miles at Lincoln Middle School.
“I don’t feel the need to go to the gym during the school year,” she said.