Description: Donna Matsufuru is currently the School Food Service Supervisor for the state of Hawaii, and has held a variety of positions within the child nutrition field during her thirty-five years of service.
Josephine Martin: Aloha. I’m Josephine Martin. I’m in the beautiful state of Hawaii with Donna Matsufuru, who is with the child nutrition agency in the state of Hawaii. Donna, I am so pleased that I have an opportunity to chat with you about your thirty-five years in child nutrition. I are looking forward to hearing some of the experiences that you have had from the very beginning with the program.
Donna Matsufuru: Thank you.
JM: Could you tell me something about where you grew up? Did you grow up in Hawaii? Did you grow up on Oahu? What did you do before you came to work in child nutrition?
DM: I was born and raised on Oahu and the family home is in a town called Aiea. It’s on the slopes above Pearl Harbor. Actually, my grandparents came from Japan to work on the sugar plantations. And so my father’s home actually is in that town so I was born there, raised there. It was really a small town. It was not a big city. We had the sugar mill, so our life revolved around that sugar mill. We had a small elementary school. Actually there was one elementary school, and then they built another one because the sugar industry was starting to be cut back. They closed the sugar mill and added more homes around that community, so the town now is very large, compared to when we were growing up. It was all sugar cane.
JM: How far away from Honolulu was that little town?
DM: It’s about ten miles.
JM: About ten miles. And so you went to elementary school and high school there?
DM: Actually, we have a family of four girls in our family. My older sister and I went to a private school. I was in kindergarten and first grade in a private school. And then when second grade came, we had two more, younger sisters, so my parents told us they couldn’t afford to send all of us to private school, so my mother said that we would have to attend a public school. It was a new public school. It was called Alvah Scott Elementary School. So I started attending that school from the second grade. And that’s where about third or fourth grade we worked in the cafeteria. So that’s how I knew about child nutrition and school lunch, because when I was in kindergarten and first grade we had home lunches.
DM: And my mother, when we were attending the private school, worked at St. Andrew’s in the cafeteria, in the food service. So that’s how I knew about cooking in quantity and stuff like that. Because she would take us in the morning and we would stay with her for a little while. And then my sister and I would walk over to the other school.
JM: Tell me about the lunches you had when you were in kindergarten and first grade.
DM: Actually, we had all home lunches. No school lunches. When we went to second grade, that’s when I first learned about school lunch. And it was twenty cents.
JM: Twenty cents.
DM: It was called a Type A lunch. Remember?
JM: Oh, absolutely. It was Type A for a long time.
DM: Right, right.
JM: What kind of menu did you have?
DM: I remember the manager was very creative. I remember at one time we used to have lamb curry. We had saimin. That’s local noodles in broth. We didn’t have a lot of convenience foods at that time. Everything was home-made. Nothing was frozen or taken out of the box. So everything was made. We had spaghetti. We didn’t have pizza, tacos, and nachos. We didn’t have things like that. It was more of the basic things.
JM: I think this is what the kids in my family would call real food.
DM: Yes, comfort food.
JM: Tell me about the bread. Did you make most of your bread?
DM: I remember when we were going to the cafeteria, when we were student helpers for the day, they would assign all the students. I believe at that time they weren’t baking their bread because we would have to butter all the bread. They had it all lined up and we would butter the bread. And then they would load it into the boxes and serve it at lunchtime. But when I went to middle school, that’s when they started baking the bread.
I actually started elementary school in the 50s so it was in the 60s when they started baking the bread, I believe.
JM: What was included on the menu? Did your Type A Lunch include whole milk?
JM: And what else was on that Type A Lunch?
DM: We had a meat and a bread and a vegetable and a fruit.
JM: Do you remember if there was much food waste when you had those wonderful home-cooked meals?
DM: Well, I can tell you a story. We had a particular teacher. When you were in the cafeteria you had to eat everything on your plate. And so, one day, in those days, I remember, I guess they had commodity raisins. And I hate raisins. She made me sit there until I finished all the raisins. But I guess I was trying to be smart. So I kinda tricked her. I took all the raisins out, ate the coleslaw, put the raisins in the milk carton, and told the teacher. “I’m done.” [Laughter]
JM: I understand that young people are still trying to fool people. However, I hope there are not a lot of teachers insisting on children cleaning their plates these days.
DM: Right, right.
JM: So, how did you happen then to start working in child nutrition? I know you had that association with your mother working in food service. Tell us about your work experience and any further training you had after you left high school.
DM: After I left high school I attended the Kapiolani Community College and I went to school there for two years and I graduated. During the time I was attending Kapiolani Community College, there was this teacher. Her name was Clara Nylen and she approached me and she told me, “You know Donna, I think you would be good to work in child nutrition, in school food service.” And I told her, “Yes, I am really interested.” But at the time that I had applied to attend that school they were at Honolulu Community College. They were doing away with the program and moving it over to Kapiolani, so there was no school food service training at the Kapiolani Community College. It was more for hotel/restaurant. So she took me under her wings and she tried to introduce me to some things that were going on. So that’s how she and I developed this relationship and she encouraged me and she helped me to get into the program.
JM: Well, that was wonderful. Was she the person who actually developed the food service program at the community college?
DM: Yes, she was an instructor at Honolulu Community College for many years.
JM: And is that program still going, or has it been discontinued?
DM: I believe it’s been discontinued. There really is no program. Because when I graduated from the Kapiolani Community College, prior to that they had a food service manager internship program and the year I graduated they had done away with it.
JM: Why do you think they did away with it Donna?
DM: I believe the previous year there was a student internship program and I believe the managers at that time felt that they should be compensated for the time that the students were with them. I believe that’s the reason they did away with that program.
JM: When exactly did the school nutrition personnel become members of the union and what impact has the union had on the school nutrition program?
DM: I’m not real sure about that but I know they were a driving force between a lot of the things that are happening and the benefits that the current managers have. In the state of Hawaii the food service managers get paid for twelve months, but they actually work only for ten. That was a big thing for food service people in Hawaii.
JM: So, it certainly has improved their benefits.
JM: Does the School Food Authority have minimum qualifications for the managers who work in the schools?
DM: I think currently the qualifications have changed. It’s been about ten or twelve years ago that they changed the qualifications where they allow the current people who are coming up through the ranks where education is not required to meet the minimum qualifications of a food service manager. So your quality of managers has changed over the years.
JM: Well, certainly standards are very important.
JM: It’s very important to have standards to encourage the quality of programs. Well, tell me how, you came to work about thirty-five years ago in the child nutrition programs, and you had a mentor who encouraged you, what kind of jobs did you have when you first came to work?
DM: In 1972 a friend of mine and I applied to take the test for the Food Service Manager for the state, and we got called for interviews. And there were only two positions open in the entire state of Hawaii. There was one job on the island of Lanai, and another job on the island of Maui. And she told me, “You’re going to Lanai, because my grandparents live on Maui, and I’m going to stay with them. So you go to Lanai.” So that’s what happened. And thirty-five years ago, I was only like twenty-one years old, and never been away from home, and we went on the plane. There were no jets at the time. It was a DC-3 with propellers. The supervisor told me, “Donna, before you go, about a week before, write a note to the principal you are arriving on this flight….” Well, there is only one flight arriving in and out every day. “…that you’re going to be arriving at this time and you’re going to need a ride from the airport to the school.” OK, I wrote the letter. Well, when I arrived on Lanai, nobody was there to greet me, except there were about five construction men. And fortunately, the wife of one of the construction workers is from Lanai and is a food service manager. He came up to me and he said, “Do you need a ride?” And I said, [nods her head Yes] I think I was ready to cry or something and he felt sorry for me. So they helped me pack my bags, I got into the construction van, and that’s how I arrived at the school.
JM: And did you have a place to stay in Lanai when you got there?
DM: Yes. They had homes that they rented out for the teaching staff and people who didn’t have a home. I stayed there with the Home Ec teacher.
JM: Oh, that was a great way to build a network, a relationship with the Home Economics Department.
DM: Right, right.
JM: Now what size school, what type of school was that?
DM: When I arrived there in 1972 there were about 550 children. It was from grades K-12, and we also had one Head Start Program on campus.
JM: That’s right. Head Start started in the middle of the sixties, so you were there kind of in the beginning.
JM: And how many employees did you have?
DM: I had one cook, one baker, and I had two part-time employees. So there were four other staff and myself.
JM: And what were the food services? Were you only serving a school lunch? Besides Head Start or did you have breakfast or …?
DM: Breakfast hadn’t even started at that time. We had a midmorning program, so we would serve sandwiches, canned juices, and things like that. And then there was lunch. Those were the only two things that we did.
JM: All right. Did the school have any competitive foods?
JM: No competitive foods.
DM: There was no McDonalds. It was a small plantation town. School was the center of the community. There was nothing around. There were no stores outside of the school where the kids could walk off campus.
JM: Were most of the kids bussed in to school, or did they walk to school.
DM: Most of them walked because it was all within walking distance.
JM: Well then participation was pretty good, even in spite of the fact that they walked?
DM: Yes. We had over eighty percent participation.
JM: Wow! That is very, very good, eighty percent participation in a K-12 school.
JM: Tell me some of the menus that you served.
DM: We had the basics: spaghetti, baked macaroni, and one dish that the kids on Lanai really liked was “Hekka” They used ground beef and noodles, and shoyu. Shoyu is soy sauce and kind of like a teriyaki sauce. And they really liked that.
JM: And by then were you baking bread?
DM: Yes. By that time, in 1972, they had started baking, so we made all our breads every morning and did all the, even peeling vegetables by hand.
JM: Tell me about your equipment in the school in the ’70s.
DM: We had two 4-burner gas burners, and we had two convection ovens, and we had one vegetable peeler. And we had one mixer. And we had a dish machine.
JM: Oh, that was uptown, uptown to have a dish machine.
DM: And because Lanai was so isolated, we had a huge 9×12 freezer that the supervisor had put in, because we had to make sure we had the food. Lanai being so isolated, and sometimes the weather was so bad that no airplanes could get in, and there was no food, there was no bread, there was no mail, no nothing, because of the weather.
JM: So, the food was delivered by air?
DM: Right, or by the barge. The milk used to come in by air and then the barge would bring in the day-to-day stuff.
JM: How often did you get deliveries on the barge?
DM: Once a week.
JM: Did you plan your own menus?
DM: No. By that time each district had their own cycle menus.
DM: So, they had committees. And because I was on Lanai, I was the only one. The menu committee was on Maui, and sometimes I think the Molokai people would go over and work on the menus. But I didn’t really work on the menus.
JM: But back then there was a menu committee that came up with the menus?
JM: Well, I know you work with the Donated Foods Program now, and I am told the schools use a lot of whole wheat flour.
JM: What kind of flour were they using then to bake the bread?
DM: We used a lot of bread flour, and we used AP flour. I don’t think we had whole wheat flour, but we used to have corn meal once in a while, and oats.
DM: Rolled oats. And stuff like that.
JM: Did you make corn bread or corn muffins?
DM: Yes we did.
JM: Did the children like those?
DM: Yes, yes. I was fortunate on Lanai. I had a very good baker. She was excellent, yes.
JM: Well, tell me about the teachers that you worked with when you were there.
DM: It was really fun because they were all my age, you know, they just finished school, right out of college, so every weekend, or sometimes my roommate and I, she’d come home, and she’d look at me, and she had this look in her face, and she’d say, ” We gotta get out of here.” Laughter. She had a little VW Bug. We’d pack all our stuff inside, pack our dinner, run down to the beach, eat dinner and then come home after, just, you know, get out of the city, get out of the environment, just to get away. And so that was fun. And then we used to go down to the beach, camp on the beach, and there’s nobody around, you know. It was really fun.
JM: It’s great to be young and have those kind of memories.
JM: Sounds wonderful. Well, tell me, I’m always just fascinated by the way things were back then. Did your school nutrition staff have special uniforms or did they just wear their regular work clothes, or how did they dress?
DM: When I first started, I always wore a uniform. We all wore uniforms. We wore white uniforms with white aprons. We wore hairnets. And that was the standard uniform.
JM: And what about the shoes?
DM: We had regular white shoes, Oxfords or whatever. And then only recently the state provided steel-toe shoes, because they were having too many foot injuries. That was before I left the school. It was in like 1990 they provided steel-toe shoes for all the workers.
JM: Oh, really? Well that’s a great idea because of the heavy lifting and being on slick concrete or tile floors every day.
JM: What was the most memorable experience you had working in the child nutrition programs, when you were out in the School Food Authority?
DM: Ah, memorable?
JM: A child coming up to you and talking to you, or a parent calling you.
DM: Well, I guess this one situation where I was at Likelike Elementary School, and this parent came up to me, and she said, “I remember you.” And I said, “Oh, what is your name?” And she told me her name and I said, “Oh.” And she said, “You were the manager when I was attending school on Lanai.” And I go, “Oh my God. How come you are here?” And she said, “Well, my son is attending kindergarten at the school.” So it was kind of fun to see someone that remembered me from way back then.
JM: It’s a very rewarding thing, and it certainly was a compliment to you that she remembered you from having provided her school meals.
DM: Yes. And I was kind of shocked that she would have remembered me from so long ago.
JM: I know you said you had this good, close social relationship with the teachers, but did you do any Nutrition Ed in the classroom?
DM: No, not really at that time. We had one teacher, I believe he was a fourth-grade teacher and his background was agriculture. So what he would do was do things with the kids. One day he grew corn enough for all the kids, so they had corn for lunch one day. So that was kind of fun.
JM: Did you all prepare the corn?
DM: Yes. We boiled the corn. The kids helped husk the corn. We got it ready for them and we served it for lunch.
JM: Kind of like the projects we have today, isn’t it?
JM: The Farm to Table Program.
JM: So nothing is really new, is it? It’s just being recycled; reinventing some of those wonderful practices of those early years.
JM: Tell me how you got to the state agency.
DM: Well, in 1990, Nancy Miura was at the School Food Services branch, and the director at the time had retired. And they needed someone to fill in because the previous supervisor for the central district was selected and then she resigned. So, Nancy asked me, “Can you come and help temporarily until they fill the vacancy?” Well, I never left. I was told I was going to stay there only for the summer. The supervisor that was selected to be the supervisor for that district was expecting her child in July, so they asked me, “Can you stay on a little longer? She’s not coming back until September.” So I said, “OK, I’ll stay until September.” September came and went and then they opened the position up for the island of Kauai, because the supervisor for central district was the Kauai supervisor. So I applied and I got the job in January of 1991. I was supervisor of the Kauai district from 1991 to June 2003.
JM: Is that when the department reorganized?
DM: Right. So from July 1, 2003, is when we officially began the separate duties of the state agency and the School Food Authority.
JM: Now, were you all given an opportunity to decide which side of the program that you would work with?
DM: No. We really didn’t have a choice. It was decided by the way our salaries were paid. If you were federally funded, which my position was, then you had to go to the state agency.
JM: That’s interesting. Money drives a lot of things, doesn’t it?
JM: And then did you immediately become the authority on Donated Foods?
DM: No. Actually, what happened was there was only four of us that came over so we had to work together. So we were doing all programs. And so initially what I started off with, I was doing CACFP. And then after CACFP, I did Summer, and then Food Distribution, and then Special Milk. I also do Special Milk.
JM: Do you have a lot of Special Milk Programs on the islands?
DM: We only have two right now. It’s really declining, Special Milk Programs.
JM: Well, the Special Milk Program has changed so much that there’s really not the need that it was back when it was started.
JM: Speaking of Special Milk, have you noticed the change in the food habits of children in all these years?
DM: Yes. I believe it’s really changed. From the time I started, to now, you can see that there’s been greater introduction of processed foods. Back when we were growing up, and when I started as Food Service Manager, there was hardly any processed food. The kids on Lanai didn’t know what a french fry was. It wasn’t even known until much later. Now you see more of the fast foods, the processed foods. Even the commodities have changed too. Whereas in the old days you had a lot of raisins, and stuff like that I don’t like – [laughing]
JM: The complex carbohydrates.
DM: Right. I think it’s really changed. Even now the turkeys; we don’t have the whole bird. Most of the managers don’t want a whole bird. They want a whole boneless bird instead of a whole bird where you roast the turkey and you get the bones and you boil the bones and you make your own stock for your gravy. Now, it’s open the package and just add water.
JM: Well, it does save labor I guess. But sometimes we feel that maybe some of the quality is not quite the same as it used to be.
JM: But maybe it is. Maybe it’s just our way of looking at it because when we grew up it was different and times have changed. Now I understand that you do not have food processing on the island, is that right?
DM: I believe they did processing many years ago, but it was way before my time. We have not processed anything for a long time, but we’re in the process of trying to start processing food commodities.
JM: What kind of commodities would you like to have processed before they come in?
DM: Originally what I wanted to do was, we had a lot of bonus milk, so what we wanted to do originally was to get the milk in the tetra packs, UHT, because we have a lot of rural communities, like on the island of Molokai, the seas get rough, or the plane can’t get there, and there’s no milk for the kids, fresh milk. At least this would have been a second option.
JM: Well, maybe this new milk regulation might help?
DM: Yes. It might.
JM: I’m sure operating the program or administering the program on an island, in a state that has multiple islands, does present challenges as well as opportunities. What are some of the other challenges you experience with your Donated Foods?
DM: I think a lot of the challenges we have are that deliveries are not sometimes consistent, especially this year it’s been really bad. Our deliveries, or food orders that we had placed last March, a lot of the orders were cancelled, because last summer we had the heat wave, and we had all the Katrina problems, and so now we are feeling all of this.
JM: But that was not specifically related to your distribution in your what, seven islands?
DM: Actually, we have four warehouses. But we are feeling it now.
JM: So, delivery is a problem, consistent delivery is a problem?
JM: Weather is a problem when things come in by air? You’re not able to get the distribution of even purchased foods in some places.
JM: What about labor? Are you able to fill the personnel positions in those outer islands?
DM: As far as the food service side?
DM: They may have a hard time getting some specific workers, and a lot of managers are in that age group where they’re starting to retire, so I think in a couple of years we’re going to be feeling this. And I think it’s more evident on Oahu, where you have a lot of managers that are leaving within the next two years.
JM: Well, as you look back over your career, is there something that you wish that you had done that you didn’t do when you were manager of a school, that you didn’t have an opportunity to do, is there any one thing that, “I wish I had done so and so.?”
DM: No. I think that when I left the school district on Kauai I felt that I did the most that I could do for them, and I believe the thing that I really felt that I did for them, it that one of the things that I’m really proud of is that when I first went to the island of Kauai, the first thing that the manager asked me was, “Isn’t there an easier way to do reports?” and I go, “Yea.” And so I said, “Well, what do you want me to do?” He told me, “You know, we need some sort of a program.” So, in 1990, I went back to school and I went to learn about computers. And in 1992 or ’93 they installed a computerized meal-counting system in Waipahu High School. So, eventually word gets around the island and so the principal at this particular school asked me, “Donna, there must be an easier way.” I said, “There is.” So we started, and we started with one school, and we added two schools, and three schools. So by the time I left the district all my schools on the island were computerized.
JM: Wow, that was quite an accomplishment.
DM: Yes. I worked very hard. I can say that. [Laugher]
JM : I know that you did and that was very forward thinking. But I think it does demonstrate how someone can ask a simple question about “is there a simpler way to do something” and you come up with some very positive alternatives. And there’s always a way to find ways to make work more productive and easier.
JM: And it certainly is a compliment to your leadership there with the school nutrition program. You have really been a wonderful person and have added a lot to the oral history for the National Food Service Management Institute and Donna I really want to thank you for taking this time away from your work to share your ideas with us and with the Institute. You will be seeing more of yourself and being able to read about your testimony on the NFSMI website. So, is there anything you’d like to ask me?
DM: No, I was surprised that you even considered me to be interviewed.
JM: Oh Donna, of course we wanted you interviewed, because in getting the oral histories, it’s very important for the Institute to interview people who have been with the program 15, 20, 25, 30 years, because you can bring so much of the history, as certainly your stories of working out on the islands and even working within the big city of Honolulu has been very important to add to the history of child nutrition programs. And so we want to thank you as we close out this interview. I guess what I’m going to say is Aloha and Mahalo.
DM: Thank you. I just have to tell you a cute little story. I was doing a site review at a private school on the island of Kauai. I had just started as a supervisor for that district and I was also responsible for the private schools. And so I went to this little school, it’s called St. Theresa, and I went to visit the school and observe lunch. So, the first group that came was this preschool teacher with her children. And they sat down. I can’t remember clearly but I believe they had french fries and a sandwich or something and a fruit and a vegetable. And they all sat down, and the teacher sat down to one particular child, and she said, “Do you know ketchup is made from tomatoes?” And the kid said, “Naaaawww.” And so we all laughed, and she said, “No, ketchup is made from tomatoes.” And so I always tell that story whenever I have trainings, a little bit about nutrition education.
JM: Yes. And children have learned a lot about food through the school nutrition program.
JM: They learn a lot of things. They learn a lot.
DM: That was the cutest story and I wanted to share that with all of you.
JM: That’s good. Thank you for sharing that. We’re glad to have that additional story.