David Schwake (RD, SNS) isn’t above dressing like a carrot or an apple if it will put a smile on a student’s face, and there is nothing he likes more than being swarmed by a room full of kindergarteners who can name the benefits of Vitamin A (“Eyes!”). Now the director of Litchfield Elementary School District #79, Schwake got his start in school foodservice by running for school board after his suggestion to implement school breakfast was met with resistance.
“They told me there weren’t enough kids [for breakfast] so … I got on the school board!” recalled Schwake with a laugh. “Eventually the other board members said it was the best idea we ever came up with; that’s what got me thinking about school nutrition, and it evolved from there.”
A baker’s son whose father “walked in and out the same shop door for 77 years”, Schwake pursued a college education and went on to work in many sectors of foodservice, from his own college bakery to hospitals and prisons. An RD with passion for feeding people, Schwake cites his father as an early inspiration.
“My dad, he told us to remember our friends and remember those in need,” he recalled. “We would be coming back from a delivery and he would turn down a road and send me to drop off some bread to an older couple. I didn’t know the term ‘food insecurity’ at the time—I would just go and hand them the bread, and leave. That must have put a seed in my head—you need to be caring about everyone in your community.”
When SNA past-president Jean Ronnei (SNS) met David at an Arizona food show, she knew immediately there was something special about him. They bonded iover a shared passion for reducing food waste, and Ronnei couldn’t help but admire Schwake’s work both inside and outside the school cafeteria.
“I know when you run across someone who is a hero, you want to promote that,” said Ronnei. “When you see something so incredibly special in someone—I couldn’t help myself. I felt like his story needed to be told, so I started snooping and put together the nomination!”
School nutrition is only one way Schwake puts his passion to nourish his community to work. He’s been a board member of the Association of Arizona Food Banks for nine years, and is in his third year of serving as Board President for Agua Fria Food & Clothing Bank. He built a backpack program, helped open a Kids Café that now serves 5,000 cold and 1,000 hot meals per day, and he is an active gleaner.
“I’m a huge believer in food banks and the work they do and I know how busy David would be in just his regular job,” said Ronnei. “When I learned about what he was doing above and beyond his regular job I was blown away. How does a person maintain a full work schedule, family activities, and do the things he does? I could not fathom doing that.”
Schwake himself admits he’s not quite sure where he gets the energy to get everything done, but he also says he’s not even close to finished.
“This is the easiest job I’ve ever had in my whole life, and I love it,” he said. “People say they work hard, but I say unless you’ve worked Mother’s Day at Olive Garden you can’t imagine what it’s like to work hard in foodservice! I’ve been doing this thirty years, and I don’t know if I’ll ever retire.” David cites mentors—starting with his father—for any successes he has achieved, and is quick to credit his community for supporting his efforts.
Ronnei says she hopes others will find inspiration from the community support Litchfield has shown Schwake.
“He takes opportunities where they are, and goes with them,” she said. “The work he did was not typical, in my perspective. And that his district allowed for that kind of collaboration with other non-profits I thought was unusual, and could speak to a way forward for others.”