By Jasmine Walton 2016-09-09 05:21:30
School Lunch Hero Day, now in its fourth year, continues to bind communities together, as they offer thanks to those guardians of school nutrition. SOME MAY THINK ONE NEEDS SPECIAL POWERS OR EXTRAORDINARY SKILLS to be a successful hero, but the real superheroes are undercover, everyday superstars like the frontline school nutrition professionals (aka “lunch ladies”) who help children daily. They continually put others before themselves without any expectation of acknowledgement or reward. It’s precisely because they don’t expect to be recognized that we choose to do so on various occasions throughout the year, particularly on School Lunch Hero Day (SLHD), each year in early May. Developed in partnership between Lunch Lady graphic novel series author Jarrett J. Krosoczka and SNA, this day of appreciation—now in its fourth year—is a fun and unique occasion to say “thank you.” After all, as Krosoczka has asserted during his book tours, “A thank you can change the life of the person who receives it, and it changes the life of the person who expresses it.” SN received recaps from various schools and districts and also reviewed traditional and social media sources to collect examples of how this gratitude was expressed across the country in words and images. 1) Community Relations Dietitian Nan Cramer and Food Service Assistant Charles Williams join forces as their alter-egos, The Lunch Lady and The Breakfast Man, to fight hunger in the Houston (Texas) Independent School District! 2) It’s a bird...it’s a plane... NO, it’s Avon (Ind.) Community School staff who want yummy lunch foods to soar into kids’ bellies. 3) Haywood County (N.C.) School District encouraged their students to pick their own favorite superpowers too! 4) At South Hills Middle School in Pittsburgh, Pa., cafeteria employees recreated the age-old Batman vs. Superman feud for SLHD. 5) In Cypress-Fairbanks (Texas) Independent School District, foodservice workers huddle together and make a pact to serve hot, delicious lunches every school day. 6) Fulton County School cafeteria staff in Georgia join forces with Captain Planet against all those who pollute the earth with poor-tasting food! 7) A Washoe County (Nev.) School District cafeteria employee takes a bite out of crime with these customized hero cookies! 8) Center McMechen Elementary School in West Virginia called on students to craft crime-fighting replicas of their cooks and servers. 9) Custom School Lunch Hero gear was created for the team in Farmington (N.M.) Municipal Schools. 10) Kids at Monticello Central School District (N.Y.) can’t wait to read their new copies of Lunch Lady! 11) Superwoman makes an appearance at Red Oak (Texas) Independent School District. 12) Kids at Cypress-Fairbanks (Texas) Independent School District draw their favorite lunch and breakfast foods. 13) High school students at Brashear High School (Pittsburgh, Pa.) speak truth! 15) You shall not pass! Enemies beware, as the nutrition heroes of North East Independent School District in San Antonio, Texas, take a stand. 16) Cafeteria workers in Grapevine Colleyville (Texas) Independent School District are ready to get their hands dirty and make some tasty lunch food! 17) High school students at Pittsburgh (Pa.) Public Schools decorated inspiring posters. 18) Bartow County (Ga.) School District celebrates in Dr. Seuss style. I spy Thing 1 and Thing 2, but where ever in the world is The Cat in the Hat? 19) Employees at Jordan Elementary School in the Centralia City (Ill.) School District have some real lunch lady swag. 20) Red Oak (Texas) Independent School District wins the “most spirited” award for School Lunch Hero Day! I mean, who can beat a life-sized sandwich?! 21) In Idaho, Shoshone Elementary School students were encouraged to “clown around” and let out their inner weirdness with oversized glasses and red noses. 22) Food & nutrition staff at Camdenton (Mo.) Schools embrace their identities as The Green Lantern, Superman and The Flash, respectively. 23) Another Wonder Woman from Red Oak (Texas) ISD is proud to serve 24) Cafeteria team members from Alden (N.Y.) Central School District’s ears perkup when discussing good nutrition. 25) Children at Baker Place Elementary School in Grovetown, Ga., created a life-sized “Super Lunch Girl” cut-out! 26) Cooks in Peterson Central Elementary School (Lewis County, W.Va.) are influenced by their favorite masked crusaders! 27) At Red Oak (Texas) ISD, one cafeteria employee opts to live a “you are what you eat” message. 28) Lunch ladies at Cypress-Fairbanks (Texas) Independent School District are truly superheroes with super powers! 29) A Fonwood Elementary student in Houston, Texas, says it all. 30) Windham Raymond (Maine) School District kitchen workers urge you to “Keep calm and eat school lunch.” 31) In N.Y., Cayuga Heights students show artistic appreciation. 32) A foodservice employee at Baker Place Elementary (Ga.) embraces the Superwoman within, accepting her mission to lend a helping hand to hungry kids everywhere! 33) Staff at Red Oak (Texas) Independent School District are ready to fight hunger! IN A WORLD OF ORDINARY MORTALS... Cayuga Heights Elementary School, part of Depew Union Free School District, a suburb of Buffalo, N.Y., celebrated SLHD with style. Special treats not typically found in the cafeteria—including chocolate-covered strawberries, Danish and donuts—were available. Kindergarteners made posters of grapes with personalized messages saying, “Thank you bunches for all our lunches.” Firstand second-graders created thank-you cards with figurines, wrote messages on cloth capes and crafted their favorite superheroes out of paper plates. Third-graders thanked their cafeteria team members by making a “Lettuce tell you how wonderful you are” banner with messages in the shape of their favorite fruits and vegetables. “People often don’t understand the complexities of school breakfasts and lunches. School lunch is arguably the most regulated, thought-about and highly planned meal in America,” said Depew Union Food Service Director Barbara Albi, in her recap to SNA. Cayuga Heights fourth-graders took an Asian-inspired approach and wrote individual “fortunes,” sticking them in a fortune-cookie box. The theme was made complete with fortune cookies scattered along a banner, reading “It’s our good fortune to have you as our lunch heroes.” Fifth-graders were encouraged to decorate plain, white aprons to give to their favorite lunch ladies. Students were either given sections, which together made one unique piece of finished artwork, or allowed to collaborate on decorating them. They worked on these wearable works of art throughout the school day. Delivering breakfast “meals on wheels” to classrooms, Judy Morrow, a 20-year cafeteria veteran at Cayuga Heights, was quoted in a local newspaper as saying that the favorite part of her day is “Making sure [students] have a good lunch, a nice healthy lunch. I like to see their smiles. It makes my day.” When asked about what she liked best about the SLHD festivities, Morrow noted that having her students look up to her is such a reward, along with all the hugs! She saves every card that her kids make, every year. Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Rabey went on the record with praise for all of his school nutrition staff: “From the warm and compassionate welcoming environment that they provide in the cafeteria to the personal touch that they deliver with every student’s meal, to how they encourage our kids to eat healthier, Depew’s nutritional professionals are truly heroes to our school community and deserve to be recognized.” THANKS FROM A GRATEFUL NATION At Farmington (N.M.) Municipal Schools, cafeteria team members were rewarded with glowing praise, framed pictures, sweet treats and other gifts. Principals made recognition announcements over the intercom that morning. School nutrition employees were encouraged to wear T-shirts with a hero icon that had been designed by a local T-shirt shop owner. Nutrition staff were honored at the district’s second annual Employee Recognition Ceremony, featuring a catered reception. Marshall County (W.Va.) Schools celebrated SLHD with a special dose of spirit! Center McMechen Elementary School students created crime-fighting likenesses of three beloved employees. Across town, Head Cook “Miss Beth” Gilles was acknowledged as the Super Heroine of Sand Hill Elementary, arriving to find her serving window overflowing with cards of appreciation and gratitude. “It is so wonderful working at a school where we are one big happy family. I am truly blessed,” Gilles said in a report submitted to SNA. In the Harlem School District in Machesney Park, Ill., the foodservice team was delighted by their young “lookalikes” and awarded a prizes. Many sites throughout Pittsburgh (Pa.) Public Schools celebrated SLHD, as cafeteria staff donned capes and shields and enjoyed much merriment. For example, students at Brashear High School created a display of motivational quotes for the occasion, such as “If the lunch lady ain’t happy, nobody’s happy” and “All women are created equal...only the finest become a lunch lady.” Pelham (N.Y.) Public School District Nutrition Services Director Kelly Rambeau really wanted to thank her team for their achievements in the past year. “The work you all do on a daily basis is so important to the students and staff in our district,” she commended in a news interview. At one school site, school nutrition staff took a page from the “Throwback Thursday” social media trend to dress up as “lunch ladies of the past.” “Miss Vegetable” distributed fruit and veggie samples, using popular meals that were served “back in the day” as inspiration. Foodservice staff in the Houston (Texas) Independent School District were moved by the acknowledgment of their hard work by students, as well as by other school staff. They received handwritten letters, pictures, flowers and hugs from students, among other gifts. At De Zavala Elementary School, for example, Librarian Linda Turner made them a home-cooked lasagna meal, “paying them back” for all the meals they have given so often to students. One cafeteria employee credited the warmth from the De Zavala community as helping her to a speedy recovery from cancer. At Houston’s Walnut Bend Elementary School, students surprised foodservice staff with moving, appreciative messages. One note said, “Thank you for working so hard to make breakfast and lunch for us. You make healthy, delicious food. We LOVE it!” According to Susana Samaniego, another cafeteria team member who sent a story to SNA, seeing “these great posters made for the lunch ladies touched my heart. It really feels good to be appreciated. Thank you.” School nutrition employees working at Houston’s Fonwood Early Childhood Center unsuspectingly came to work and discovered a parade thrown in their honor! All across the district, cafeteria team members were in agreement: Interaction with students is the element that makes their jobs rewarding. EXTRAORDINARY SERVICE, EVERY DAY These are just a handful of heartwarming stories that should power you up for another terrific school year ahead! Before you know it, the next SLHD (May 5, 2017) will be at hand. But that doesn’t mean you should put away your hero mask or cape. Take pride in being a bona fide superhero to the children you serve! Managers and supervisors also are gently reminded to keep showing appreciation to the members of your invaluable teams. Good intentions can get lost in the face of your busy days, which is why you should work to make “thank you” a regular habit and plan acts of gratitude in your schedule. For example, pledge to write one thank-you note to a staff member on the last Friday of the month. Mark your calendar to periodically highlight a different manager on your Facebook page, Instagram account or Twitter feed. Make it a point to say “thank you” several times every day. Keep sharing your stories of creative fun and passionate dedication with School Nutrition all year! We want to hear from you; send in your high resolution photos and nutrition stories—with names and captions—via email to email@example.com. While we can’t feature every photo we receive, you might see your heroes featured in an upcoming issue or on SNA’s social media pages! Why? Because you are our heroes, too! Jasmine Walton is School Nutrition’s communications coordinator. Editor Patricia Fitzgerald contributed to this story.
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