School Lunch Hero Day Celebrates Cafeteria Professionals

With each smile or kind word, cafeteria employees make a difference in children’s school days. Their hard work and dedication can go unrecognized, but not on May 3, School Lunch Hero Day! Help celebrate these deserving and beloved lunch ladies and gentlemen! The national, non-profit School Nutrition Association (SNA) received hundreds of nominations of stellar school nutrition professionals and awarded six Regional Employees of the Year. The award was created to recognize outstanding school nutrition employees who influence the quality of school meals through customer service. Meet the 2019 winners:

Gwen Daly, Child Nutrition Assistant at Northdale Middle School – Minnesota

Gwen Daly

Praised by supervisors as having “top-notch customer service skills,” Daly is described as respectful, helpful and extremely approachable to both students and staff. She is known to take time outside of work to create projects for her school. Daly has created various timesaving tools in the kitchen, including three-ring binders organizing daily menus that showcase recipes and specific serving utensils needed for each meal. She also creates wall signs featuring each menu in the school’s three-week cycle with main dish, pizza, hot sandwiches, deli sandwiches and salads. Daly also implemented a new way to track quantities for each menu day, simplifying the food ordering process and saving money.

She is invested in her students, nominating deserving students to be recognized for the staff-generated “People’s Choice Awards” at Northdale Middle School. Using her personal experience dealing with a restrictive diabetic diet, she takes extra time to work with students who need advice and guidance in choosing the proper carbohydrates per each individual student’s insulin dosage.

Jeannine Flory, Kitchen Cook at Jefferson County North Elementary/Middle School – Kansas

Jeannine Flory

Jeannine Flory is known for being a team player, working well with nutrition services and supporting staff. When working with the conference theme of “BEE All You Can BEE,” Flory took it to the next level and made custom bee hot pads, aprons and banners to promote the idea. She also makes custom aprons for kitchen staff for all holidays and Kansas School Lunch Week themes. She excels at promoting the school meal program, serving as a positive voice in school nutrition among her peers and at training sessions and conferences. She is dedicated to growing within the field of school nutrition, taking classes throughout the year and sharing her new skills and knowledge with staff. She formerly served as an area representative and is secretary for the Kansas SNA board. Flory has also helped organize various fundraisers and silent auctions and will be leading a team in local and conference wellness walks.

Leah Perry, School Nutrition Employee at Chelmsford High School, Massachusetts 

Leah Perry

Leah Perry has been described as the “anchor” of her department, instrumental in creating a welcoming atmosphere for her district’s high school students and fellow staff members. She helped create the popular Snack Shack Room, where she plays music, dresses up for special school spirit days and customizes options from student feedback. She made such an impact on students that many requested to have their photo taken with Perry at the end of their senior year. Perry is described as an ultimate team player, often filling in at other schools to assist in the kitchen, work in the back office or help transport meals.

When the district decided to expand the satellite breakfast program, Perry was instrumental in the planning to help eliminate travel and production challenges. Her suggestions on travel routes and delivery schedules helped reduce time spent on the road, providing additional time for food preparation. Continued education has been an important aspect of her role over the past 15 years. She attends local SNA chapter meetings, received the SNA certification and attends conferences and training sessions when available. Perry filled in for a manager out on extended leave, rising to the occasion and demonstrating impressive leadership skills.

Carey Powell, Ordering Data Technician at Davis County School District – Utah

Carey Powell with food service staff members

Carey Powell is the go-to source and problem-solver for Davis County Schools, coordinating food and supply orders with the help of the warehouse manager. She works under the direction of the Nutrition Department director and with more than 90 kitchen managers in the district. The district currently has schools under construction, which requires specific menus and a completely different food order list and schedule. Powell is known for solving daily dilemmas while maintaining a professional and calming demeanor, and she goes the extra mile to find creative solutions to solve any issue. She assisted in overhauling computer programs and warehouse programs to create a more cohesive system.

Powell first started in school nutrition while training as a cook in February of 2009. She quickly tackled additional training and certifications and within two years became a manager in elementary and junior high school levels before joining the District Nutrition Services team in 2016. Powell has been an SNA member for the past decade, serving as Utah SNA area chairperson, treasurer, vice president, president elect, president and past president. Always a team player, Powell helps run SNA fundraisers and coordinate chapter social events. She attends the Utah SNA State Convention every year and has participated in the last four SNA Annual National Conferences.

Shirley Price, Child Nutrition Administrative Assistant at Lincoln County School District – Mississippi 

Shirley Price (right) with her director, Jeremy Berry

Even though her primary role is administrative, Shirley Price is a fixture in her district’s cafeterias so she can maintain a personal relationship with kitchen staff, teachers, administrators and students. She enjoys visiting with the lower elementary students, whom she lovingly calls “the babies” and greets them with a big smile and hug during breakfast. If shorthanded in the cafeteria, Price steps up to help serve students, wipe tables or help staff however she can. While not required, Price possesses a ServSafe Certification, Level 4 Certification in School Nutrition and is also a Certified School Food Service Program Manager. She maintains these certifications in order to fill in and understand other positions in the program. To update her technological skills, Price enrolled in classes for office management technology and accounting technology.

Working in a rural district with just over 3,000 students, Price is also responsible for scanning and verifying all of the Free and Reduced applications. According to her supervisors, she is known for her professionalism and always willing to help staff from other departments in the district central office. To show support for school board members during School Board Appreciation Week, Price coordinated an appreciation luncheon in one of the school cafeterias. To transform the cafeteria experience for students on School Milk Day, she arranged for her director to wear a cow suit, made a cow vest for herself and ordered “Got Milk?” t-shirts for school nutrition staff.

In July, all 19 Regional Award winners, including the top three National Award winners, will be honored during the Awards Ceremony at the School Nutrition Association’s Annual National Conference in St. Louis, MO.

SNA has teamed up with Jarrett J. Krosoczka, author and illustrator of the popular LUNCH LADY graphic novel series, and Random House Children’s Books to celebrate all of America’s school nutrition professionals through School Lunch Hero Day, on Friday, May 3. Students, faculty and parents across the country will show their appreciation with thanks, cards and recognition for their cafeteria staff. Visit for more information.

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