Recognized by United States Department of Agriculture
Child Nutrition directors from thirteen school districts in Northeast North Carolina, including Dare County Schools, collaborated to create the NENC Co-Op, a regional buying group. This cost-saving effort was honored with a Best Practices Award from the US Department of Agriculture, Southeast Regional office on October 20, 2011. The award was presented at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction's fall conference for Child Nutrition administrators at Research Triangle Park, among whom was Dare County Schools CN Director Carol Sykes.
Sykes says the goal of the NENC co-op is to combine buying power for savings, increase vendor competition, and improve purchasing efficiencies. In its first year (2010-2011), the group cut food and supply expenditures by almost 10% from the prior year, for a reduction of $362,000. "By working together the thirteen small rural districts were able to cultivate more competition from food distributors than obtained when bidding separately," says Sykes. "The savings helped child nutrition programs cope with limited resources; rising food costs, and the expense associated with offering more fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
In addition to Dare County, he NENC Co-Op is comprised of Bertie, Camden, Currituck, Dare, Edenton Chowan, Gates, Elizabeth City/Pasquotank, Hertford, Hyde, Perquimans, Martin, Tyrrell and Washington. Sykes says Martin County CN director Sharon Kinion was the lead person in applying for the award.
The regional co-op operates under the umbrella of the North Carolina Child Nutrition Procurement Alliance. "In the 2009-2010 school year Child Nutrition Services in the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction observed school feeding programs struggling financially and facilitated formation of the procurement alliance. Membership was made available to all North Carolina Child Nutrition programs. Approximately ninety school divisions have joined this alliance." Within the alliance, regional purchasing cooperatives are encouraged to further strengthen purchasing power beyond what a single member district can obtain. NENC Co-Op is an example of a regional buying cooperative within the larger alliance.
In a recent report, the Program Evaluation Division of the state General Assembly recognized the value of the NC CN Procurement Alliance, stating “The viability of child nutrition programs depends on a delicate balance of cost, nutritional value and student participation."