March 20, 2019

Local Eateries Pitch In During Princeton Nursery School Renovation

STEPPING UP TO THE PLATE: Rosanda Wong, executive director of Princeton Nursery School, and some members of the student body accepted lunch bags Tuesday from Will Caton of Chopt, which is among several restaurants that is serving lunch to the kids during a two-week renovation of the school’s kitchen. (Photo by Charles R. Plohn)

By Anne Levin

With 37,000 meals to feed to 46 hungry children each year, the kitchen at Princeton Nursery School is a busy place. But making sure those 3- and 4-year-olds get breakfast, a hot lunch, and a snack each day has become a challenge as the kitchen, in a building that is over 90 years old, has deteriorated.

Thanks to a recent fundraising drive, the school is installing a brand new, $50,000 kitchen with a commercial grade oven, refrigerators, freezers, dishwashers, and stainless steel shelving. The two-week project got underway last week, and should be finished by the end of this week. Meanwhile, who is feeding the kids? Local restaurants, that’s who.

On the first day, PJ’s Pancake House provided pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon, and fresh fruit. LiLLiPies, on schedule for this week, is making turkey sandwiches, ham sandwiches, and of course, peanut butter and jelly, packed with an apple from Terhune Orchards and a freshly baked cookie. Others that have stepped up are McCaffrey’s Catering, Pizza Star, Surf Taco, Nomad Pizza, and Chopt.

“We reached out to various local restaurants and eateries, and every single lunch has been covered,” said Rosanda Wong, the school’s executive director. “They are all so willing to work with us, making sure the food is child-friendly. Every place we have asked says of course, they can help. Bringing in food every day would have cost a fortune for us.”

Jen Carson, owner of LiLLiPies, was more than happy to help. “I was so moved by their mission and immediately said yes when they asked,” she said. “I wasn’t sure how we were going to pull it off, but I knew we just had to do it. We’re baking off some extra pain de mie, which is white bread, because kids seem to like white bread best.”

From the salad restaurant Chopt, the children were given Kale Caesar Wraps with fresh parmesan and a Fuji apple. “It’s great to give back to our community,” said Will Caton, of the eatery. “We do this kind of thing with our New York location and it’s good to pay it forward here in Princeton. I went with how healthy I wanted to go while keeping in mind what these little kids would really want. I’m waiting to hear how it went.”

Princeton Nursery School has been a fixture on Leigh Avenue, in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood, since a wealthy Princeton resident founded it for working mothers who desperately needed a place for their preschool-aged children to go during the day. More than nine decades later, the need is still there. Many of the students are neighborhood residents whose parents walk them to school before putting in a full day of work.

“We couldn’t close the school during the renovation, because our families need us,” said Wong. “The contractors — Elrath Construcion, Singer Appliances, and Ici Flooring — have been great, working around us. But of course, we haven’t had a kitchen during the project.”

The new kitchen will be up to commercial code. It will have more space for storage, which has been desperately needed. “We’ll have open shelves, very open and modern,” said Wong. “We’ll have a three-bay sink. Everything will be new and clean.”

Restaurateur Raoul Momo recommended the contractors. “They have been so pleasant,” said Wong. “They understand they are in a building with 3- and 4-year-olds. There has been no cursing, no noises. Dust has been kept to a minimum. And they are very impressed with the lunches.”

The project has been funded by The Burke Foundation and the family of Christopher and Leslie Kuenne. Princeton University also provided a donation.

The children are not bothered by the disruption. “They’re enjoying it,” said Wong. “Our parents are happy, too. They tell us, the first thing out of the kids’ mouths when they get home from school is what they had for lunch that day.”