Mattituck Cutchogue School District

Mattituck student sole youth panelist at East End School Wellness Conference

The creator of the NoFo Tomato Sauce contest is continuing her endeavors to create more healthy options in schools.

Victoria Witczak, 13, was the only youth panelist at the East End Wellness Conference held in Southampton earlier this month.

She chose the Wellness Foundation, a Sag Harbor-based nonprofit dedicated to empowering children to live a healthy lifestyle, to be the benefactor of this year’s Sauce contest, at which she raised $500 in August. The NoFo Tomato Sauce competition encourages residents to submit their best red sauce, and Victoria announces the winner, or Sauce Boss, all while raising money for a cause of her choosing.

She hopes to see the Mattituck school district with its own garden to feed students some day in the future.

“Victoria learned a lot, because she learned what other school districts were doing,” Tanya Witczak, Victoria’s mother, said.

Victoria would love to implement similar things they have learned into Mattituck schools, like how Westhampton Beach only offers chocolate milk at lunch on Fridays.

“They realize she’s a true agent of change for food, for kids, youth and people her age and she speaks very well about it,” Ms. Witczak said.

Victoria spoke on a panel, answering questions about efforts for wellness at Mattituck schools as well as what she would like to see.

“At my own school, I definitely want to see a lot of more healthier foods, like foods you can get from a garden,” Victoria said. “But I also want to see lot more of a push on the students to be more active.”

Tricia Desiderio, director of Special Education, was in attendance last Thursday, along with Kathleen Devine, Cutchogue East Elementary School principal. She spoke on the same panel as Victoria.

“What we walked away with was a number of network partners that kind of branched out into an East End realm of similarly thinking colleagues who want to help bring social-emotional learning aspects into their school districts,” Ms. Desiderio said.

Michael Hynes, superintendent of Patchogue-Medford School District, was one of the keynote speakers, who has implemented health initiatives into his school district.

“If things can be happening on a level where the numbers are so large, in terms of number of schools and staff, and there’s a buy-in there, that really kind of makes us look at how we’re scheduling things for our students here,” Ms. Desiderio said.

Mattituck schools have gardens at the high school and elementary school, where students can learn how to grow their own food, but the crops are not allowed to be used in the school cafeterias yet.

Ms. Desiderio added there is already a health and wellness menu available to students.

“Our efforts are now focused on how we can establish a farm to table with all of the gardening that’s going on,” she said. “Especially in light of where we live.”

She added that this conference was especially helpful because there were about 200 people there, mostly from the North and South Forks, and it was very specific to East End needs.

“Victoria did an amazing job,” she said. “For a young lady like herself who was intimidated to get up on that panel and answer questions, you would never know it because she did such an incredible job.”

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Photo caption: Barbara Kinnier, Michele Sacconaghi, Victoria Witczak and Douglas Mercer, founder of the wellness foundation. (Courtesy photo)

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