Celebrating Our School Lunch Heroes!

Published: May 1st, 2020

Governor Doug Ducey and Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman are honoring school nutrition specialists and school lunch workers across the state for their hard work to keep Arizona’s children fed all year-round, especially during school closures. To honor the important work of these frontline employees, Governor Ducey proclaimed today “School Lunch Hero Day” across Arizona.

On this special day, the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) invites you all to join us in celebrating our state’s many School Lunch Heroes. Their daily heroic efforts have recently been on display more than ever before! Throughout Arizona, many directors, food service workers, teachers, administrators, school staff, and volunteers have worked tirelessly since the start of the school closures to ensure all students continue to receive nutritious school meals. As the COVID-19 response intensified, these heroes did not back down! They worked harder, striving to not only serve the students enrolled in their own schools, but ensuring that all students in their communities (regardless of their home school) received free meals. It would take weeks (maybe even months) to compile each story from every school operating meal service during these times. We are honored to be able to highlight at least a few of these stories that have been shared with us here at ADE that truly represent the efforts of all our school lunch heroes. On this day, we celebrate not only the work school food service workers and nutrition staff are doing now, but we also celebrate the phenomenal work they have been doing for years (even decades for some!) before the COVID-19 school closures. Thank you, school nutrition staff, for your service and dedication to serve Arizona’s children.

Not all heroes wear capes, in Arizona schools, they wear aprons!

“Several people started crying in appreciation; one lady drove over just to say thank you. 😊 – she didn’t even have kiddos. These are seriously hard times. People were in line waiting for us to open at 7:30 am and knocking on our back-kitchen door after we closed, for a meal…it’s really tough for people. I am so happy to help.”
-Patty Narducci, Food Service Supervisor, JO Combs Unified School District

On their first day of serving: “Today was our first day of serving meals. 3,788 meals served. I am so grateful to the entire Food & Nutrition Department of GESD. We cheered every time a car pulled up! Hoping to double those numbers! I am so proud to part of a community of professionals whose #1 goal is to feed kids!”
-Shannon Gleave, Director of Food and Nutrition, Glendale Elementary District

“Thanks to my amazing team at Litchfield Elementary School District Food Service Department, we fed 685 children today at 4 schools and 4 bus stops! The school staff/teachers who were there made a visible difference in the children’s minds as you could see them all smile when they saw the familiar faces of their teachers and staff as they picked up their meals. I am blessed to have such an amazing support system in both the school’s staff and administration! We are very excited to see what tomorrow brings!”
-Ronald Beck, Director of Food and Nutrition, Litchfield Elementary District

“I have been very lucky in my little part of the world. I have an amazing staff and I have received support from so many in my district. Principals, Teachers, Classroom Aides, Custodians, and even my School Board Members have been chipping in from the beginning. I thought that it might be nice for you to see some of the positive things that are happening in our corner of Arizona. Thank You for helping us help our community. #YumanKindness! #WeAreCraneStrong Yes, we are still making most of the meals from scratch every day.”
-Michael Clark, Director of School Nutrition, Crane Elementary District

“I think it’s wonderful the district is offering this to our children and families, and the way they have it set up, the flow is really quick. I appreciate them taking their time to help our families out because it’s a scary time for everybody and we need to work together and take care of each other.”
-Sahuarita Unified School District Parent

“From March 16 through March 19, we have distributed 835 breakfasts and 941 lunches through our meal program pick up at Whipple Elementary School. Next week, we will add Nikolaus Homestead Elementary and bus route meal drops offs.”
-Jeffrey Houston, Director of Food Services, Show Low Unified School District

“Heber-Overgaard Unified District is implementing a drive-up service for meals available from 10 a.m. -12 p.m. during the week. We also have our bus drivers carry a few meals with them on their buses as they go around to their various routes that are available, along with grade level packets with schoolwork/resources for students.”
-Ron Tenney, Superintendent, Heber-Overgaard Unified District

“HUSD Child Nutrition has proudly been serving approximately 15,000 meals each week since the COVID 19 crisis has begun! We are so amazed with how our community has pulled together to take care of each other. We are honored to be a helping hand through it all!!”
-Jody Buckle, Director of Food and Nutrition, Humboldt Unified District

Bullhead City District is very proud of their new bus banners. They are putting this 2.5′ x 5′ banner on both sides of every bus on their route to communicate free meals to all the folks in the area that don’t have internet or newspaper subscriptions. They are serving 100-200 kids per day on EACH of their 12 bus routes.
-Bullhead City School District
Free Meals For all children up to 18 years of age

“Creighton Schools has 18 meal sites consisting of 9 schools and 9 bus stop locations. Meals are served every Wednesday, for 7 days’ worth of breakfast and lunch. Volunteers and employees have come in every Tuesday to prepare the meals, and then Wednesday morning to pack them for distribution. The students and families are very appreciative, kind to one another and very patient waiting in line for meals. I am thankful and find it rewarding to see the comradery between kitchen staff, volunteer teachers, partnering school districts, physical plant maintenance departments, and transportation teams during this time. Everyone has stepped up!”
-Erin Bronner, Director of Food and Nutrition Services, Creighton Elementary District

“We want to shout out our INCREDIBLE nutrition staff who have been rotating into the kitchens to pack breakfast and lunch meals to provide to our students and community. We couldn’t do this without all of you! We continue to take all precautions and follow CDC guidelines. We appreciate everyone’s thanks and support for our department. We do it all for the kids!”
-Osborne School District
Osborn School District: Free Breakfast and Lunch for all kids under 18

“Salt River is serving from one meal site, Salt River High School. Meals are served every Monday through Friday. During our busiest weeks, we handed out 1200 meals per day. We were ready for any emergency, as we are often looked at for support in hard times. 3 of my staff have been working every day since day one and happy and ready to work and serve the children. Tribes have donated tents and cooling equipment, and teachers are volunteering and helping the kitchen staff. One community member drove through the line 3 times in one day to pick up meals for groups of students whose families did not have access to transportation.”
-Shannon Reina, Food Service Manager, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Community Schools
Happy Earth Day

“We are so proud of our Food Services workers: today, they served 8,283 breakfasts and lunches for today and 8,283 breakfast and lunches for tomorrow. In the past five weeks we have served 155,335 breakfasts and 155,335 lunches! Food Services Director Diane Gruman states: I am so very proud of the incredible impact that we have provided for our families and the community during this difficult time.”
-Cartwright School District

“March 16th was a day that will I will never forget, not because of an awful pandemic, but because of the can-do spirit that rose up from our team, without hesitation! These ladies and gentlemen immediately asked what was needed and jumped right in to make the seemingly impossible, possible. Overnight, our operation was turned on its head and meals were served to our students the next day. Our industry partners were amazing as well, cancelling orders, rerouting orders, changing numbers and simply helping in any way they could. Our tribe was mighty and the task at hand accomplished through their commitment and dedication to our mission. Our numbers have grown, and it’s still been difficult to navigate, but with everyone’s support from the state agency, distributors, brokers, manufacturers, SNA/SNAAZ and especially our phenomenal team here at SUSD Nutrition Services, bellies are full and families have one less worry on their plate.

Our first day of service, 490 in-district meals were served with a first week total of 5,300 meals. This week, we averaged 4,600 meals a day with 23,000 meals served in the week. To date, we are just shy of 100,000 meals served in the last 33 days! The work to make this happen is not for the faint of heart, but for those that are driven by compassion and have a servant’s heart. And yes, Team Awesome is comprised of such individuals. I see them tear up when they see their kids drive through, I see them pitching in wherever they are asked, I see them taking late night phone calls to find staff or scramble to order more food, I see them reach out and do jobs outside their normal job, I see them risk their own health and safety for the greater purpose and I see the perform heroic acts every day. I could not be prouder to work beside these amazing friends. My heart is full of pride as they have always been heroes in my eyes, but now they are finally being recognized by the whole community, and even the whole world, as the “Superheroes” they are!” I tip my hat to Team Awesome and owe them more gratitude than they could ever know.”

-Patti Bilbrey, Director of Nutrition Services, Scottsdale Unified School District

“Every day our school cafeteria staff serve thousands of children nutritious meals. This year, they are Laveen’s front line workers, continuing to ensure all children are fed despite school closures. Since schools closed due to COVID-19 in March, Laveen has served over 25,000 meals per week across seven school sites and 10 bus stops. Laveen is encouraging the community to recognize our lunch heroes with a drive-by celebration during meal service on May 1st. Some suggestions include decorating their cars, creating signs, cheering or honking on the child nutrition teams and offering words of appreciation. We are asking families to tag @LaveenChildNutrition and to use the hashtag #LaveenLunchHero in posts. We will also have a post on our Facebook page on Friday where people can leave positive comments, pictures, etc. #gratitudecampaign #SchoolLunchHeroDay #AZschoollunchhero”
-Jennifer Gordon, Director of Child Nutrition Services, Laveen Elementary School District

Visit School Nutrition Association of Arizona (@schoolnutritionarizona) on Facebook, to read more AMAZING stories from Arizona’s School Lunch Heroes!