United States Department of Veterans Affairs
 Health Care
Canteens Dish Up Award-Winning Events

It's not every day that a VA organization wins a prestigious prize. It's even less common when the prestigious prize is centered on a fork. This summer, fork and prize came together when the Veterans Canteen Service (VCS) awarded the Salem, Columbia, and Wilmington VAMC Canteens the 2008 VCS Golden Fork Award. The award is a national catering competition designed to encourage more catering events at all canteen facilities.

Each winning canteen received a commemorative plaque for permanent display in the canteen. The award included a monetary contribution towards the facility's VCS Promotional Fund, a fund allocated for medical centers to use for special events and recognitions.

Judges selected three canteens, one for each size category, from among the nominations. Nominees were evaluated on presentation, decoration, creativity, and originality based on photographs of their events. In addition to photos, canteens had to be endorsed by their medical center directors.

Each canteen approached the contest differently. In any hospitality circles, catering a holiday party for 800-900 people is hard enough. But if the VA medical director wants you to spread it out over four different rooms in his office quarters with elaborate decorations and displays in addition to feeding all those people, the task might seem downright daunting. Not so, said Wanda Henry, the Salem VAMC Canteen Service Chief. Along with her catering team, she created and executed an elaborate event.

An antique punch bowl filled with fresh fruit, an explosion of red velvet bows, and fragrant greenery greeted the guests in one room. Loaves of bread hollowed out and filled with "Christmas dip"-cream cheese, chopped onions and celery, sweet pineapple, and other ingredients-sat next to trays overflowing with cheese and crackers. Candlelight flickered, shining on tiered trays of petit fours, warm gourmet cookies, handmade gingerbread houses, and a homemade mint at each place setting.

A holiday social hosted by the Columbia VAMC Canteen also proved to be a winner. Canteen Service Chief Renee Claypool envisioned a grand celebration that would wow the guests. "My staff and I decorated the auditorium," she said. "It was the decor, the professionalism, and the quality [of the event] that probably helped us win." The staff set up draped, skirted tables, oversized silver platters and trays, and filled two 24-foot tables with hors d'oeuvres like stuffed pork roast with cranberry chutney sauce, cheesecake cracker spread, wontons, and eggrolls. "The table was full and vibrant," Claypool said. "People at the door could hardly wait to get in."

The Wilmington VAMC Canteen also hosted several major celebrations throughout the year, including a holiday season reception for the entire medical center, special events for the Director, and department service recognition ceremonies.

"[Our] background is food service, so we've taken a special interest in our work," said Tom Kohler, Wilmington VAMC Canteen Service Chief. "We're very proud of what we've done," he added.

By Stephanie Strauss, VA Staff Writer