Today is Friday, May 1, 2015 which means that School Lunch Hero Day is here! Honoring school lunch staff nationwide, School Lunch Hero Day precedes School Nutrition Employee Week (May 4-8) this year—but we’ve already been celebrating on Facebook and Twitter! And we’re not done yet. We’ll be online all day, sharing your photos and stories with the #schoollunchheroday hashtag—we hope you’ll check them out!
And don’t forget to check out the list—released today–of SNA’s 2015 national award winning school nutrition professionals. Your hardworking colleagues at the employee, manager, and director level are being recognized for their super efforts this year—click to find a full list of SNA’s 2015 national award winners, along with more information on School Lunch Hero Day.
School Lunch Hero Day is the result of a partnership between SNA and Jarrett J. Krosoczka, author and illustrator of the popular LUNCH LADY graphic novel series. If you haven’t watched Krosoczka’s powerful TED talk entitled, “Why lunch ladies are heroes” please do so—it’s the best five minutes you’ll give yourself today.
Earlier in 2015, school nutrition professionals converged on Washington, D.C. for the 43rd Annual Legislative Action Conference. During the conference the School Nutrition Foundation celebrated our second annual Celebration of School Nutrition Heroes, honoring five school nutrition professionals from around the country. We recently had the opportunity to sit down with three of those honorees—Jill Kidd, Robert Rusan, and Nancy Youngblood—to talk about that celebration and what it meant to them to receive such a prestigious award from their colleagues.
Chef Robert Rusan, Maplewood Richmond Heights School District, Missouri
Chef Robert Rusan is no stranger to foodservice—he grew up in the family catering business. “My grandmother was actually a lunch lady,” said Rusan. “I don’t just prepare food for my students—I actually serve them. We talk daily. They talk to me about the food, and give me feedback.” Interacting with students is obviously a point of pride for the chef, who speaks about his students with great affection.
“They tell me what they think, and there is a high expectation—I want to meet it,” said Robert. “I’m not saying I’ve converted them off junk food completely, but now they appreciate good, convenient, wholesome food. They come back and tell me when they try new things, and I love that.”
Winning a School Nutrition Hero award made Rusan feel “a little like Cinderella” and he felt honored to be in the company of his fellow nominees and award winners.
“There stories were phenomenal, and I felt extraordinarily special to be included in this group of people who have been at it so much longer than I have,” said Rusan. “Working with people like that, and the appreciation we get from our students—which is never shortcoming, let me tell you—that’s what keeps me inspired every single day.”
Jill Kidd, MS, RD, Pueblo City Schools, Colorado
Here at Beyond Breakfast, we first met Jill Kidd back in 2011 when we interviewed her about the universal breakfast program at Pueblo City Schools, where Kidd serves as Director of Food Services. Kidd describes LAC as her favorite conference, bar none.
“What makes LAC so special for me is the Day on the Hill,” said Kidd. “It’s one of the most important things we do—speaking with our representatives directly, giving them information on programs they are not necessarily informed about. The chance to share our expertise, tell [our representatives] what we need, and train yet another 22 year old!”
Receiving a School Nutrition Hero award was special for Kidd, who like her fellow nominees found inspiration in all of the winners’ stories. As always, according to Kidd, the opportunity to spend time with fellow SNA members proved rewarding.
“When I first came to this job 28 years ago, our state president at the time explained SNA to me—the benefits, the opportunities, the ins-and-outs of my new position,” explained Kidd. “SNA provides an invaluable network for [SN professionals].”
Nancy Youngblood, North Rose-Wolcott, New York
For director Nancy Youngblood, the policy and politics of school nutrition are what excite her, and her SNA membership allow her to more effectively lobby for her program. “Membership provides me with education opportunities, and in my everyday job it gives me the information I need to be an effective director,” explained Youngblood.
Winning a School Nutrition Hero Award was exciting and humbling for Youngblood, who said she prefers to be out of the spotlight most of the time. In this case, she’s happy to have the spotlight work in her favor.
“Awards aren’t the reason I do what I do—why any of us do what we do,” said Youngblood. “What [the award] does offer is a light to shine down on my cause.”
Being politically active isn’t for everyone, but Nancy encourages all school nutrition professionals to get as involved as possible. After all, who knows? It may become your passion, too.
“Getting into the policy and the politics, that’s where you can affect change for the most people,” said Youngblood. “But you can get started at the local level—everyone can do something in their own district—and then get involved at the state level.”