National Award Recipients Excel to Meet Evolving School Foodservice Needs

To coincide with School Lunch Hero Day, the non-profit School Nutrition Association (SNA) on Friday announced its annual Director, Manager and Employee of the Year winners. These awards recognize the dedication and outstanding commitment of school nutrition professionals from around the country that go above and beyond in service to their students and school meal programs. While schools have closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these foodservice heroes have continued their mission to feed America’s children in difficult situations – one curbside pickup, bus drop-off or home delivery at a time.

Thousands of school nutrition professionals are nominated by their peers each year to be recognized for their efforts. From the nominations, state winners are selected and then seven regional winners are determined anonymously. Of the 20 regional winners this spring, the three national winners were determined for their exemplary service during typical school meal program operations.

SNA recognizes Annette Hendrickx Derouin of Minnesota as the Director of the Year, Heather Blades of Virginia as Manager of the Year and Martha Pellegrino of Massachusetts as Employee of the Year. These three national winners are recognized as heroes in their districts, with pride in their profession and dedication to their students’ health and to the success of their school meal programs.

Annette Hendrickx Derouin, Director of Food and Nutrition Services for Willmar Public Schools, MN, has earned the Director of the Year Award.0-3

With 24 years of school nutrition experience, Derouin is entrusted as foodservice director of four district programs: Willmar Public Schools, New London-Spicer Public Schools, Montevideo Public Schools and the Community Christian School. Derouin was one of the first directors in Minnesota to offer a Farm to School program. She has worked with a variety of state and community groups and local farmers to develop recipes, menus, procurement tools and documents on how farmers/growers can interact with students/staff to show how local food is grown and produced. Financial management is one of Derouin’s strengths. She has facilitated kitchen equipment updates, staff development opportunities, increased scratch cooking and menu expansion. Her leadership and financial management skills have grown fund balances exponentially in the districts she serves. A true mentor, Derouin has developed training programs for her staff, from management to recipe development. She improved the onboarding process by developing a New Employee Orientation Checklist and a site level New Kitchen Employee Checklist. School Nutrition professionals statewide look to her for guidance and support on best practices. For 13 years, she’s conducted regional workshops for upwards of 200 food and nutrition service professionals. She has written manuals on HACCP/School Food Safety, Farm to School and Standardized Recipes – shared with more than 100 Minnesota schools. She helped establish the district’s Wellness Policy and has supported the work of this committee by offering classes on food and nutrition topics, as well as hands-on cooking classes and demonstrations.

Heather Blades from Spring Run Elementary in Chesterfield County Public Schools, VA has earned the Manager of the Year Award.Heather Blades - MOY

Known for creating an inviting and friendly atmosphere in the cafeteria, Blades decorates her serving lines for seasons and holidays. She recently started a disco lunch with neon glow lights on the ceiling and disco balls – so popular with her students that it will likely become a monthly event. She goes out of her way to show that each child is special, sharing one-on-one conversation and lunch with a different student each day. Blades works with the district dietetic intern to bring to life some exciting initiatives, including “Rev Your Bev,” in which fresh fruit and herbs are infused into water for flavor with no calories. She was instrumental in adding a smoothie bike in the cafeteria – which allows students to make their own smoothies by powering the pedal themselves. Blades helped teach nutrition lessons to physical education students about making healthy choices and ways to build healthy, balanced lunch trays. Blades got the entire school community involved in the “Crunch Heard ‘Round the Commonwealth” (pictured) event in which students, staff and teachers were encouraged to simultaneously take a bite of a Virginia-grown apple. She coordinated with local apple growers and helped live stream the event. Her positive energy, enthusiasm for her job and “everlasting smile” are noticed by all who work in her kitchen.

Martha Pellegrino from Blackstone Valley Tech (BVT) in Blackstone Valley Technical Regional School District, MA, has earned the Employee of the Year.Martha Pellegrino - EOY

Pellegrino prioritizes food safety and the health of her students, providing them with nutrition counseling and serving as a liaison for parents, nurses, counselors and food service staff to accommodate students’ dietary needs. She promotes physical and nutrition education, working with students to teach them how to prepare healthy meals and snacks. She also guides students in their food choices, using daily lunch menus to explain nutrient analysis, and seeks their menu suggestions to ensure meals are well received. Pellegrino has created a wellness blog, providing a wealth of information on nutrition, fitness and health related topics, and helps plan and execute the annual Wellness Fair. She secured a grant to purchase mobile food carts and helped initiate a breakfast cart program to increase breakfast participation. Pellegrino oversees the daily activity of the school food service program, from compliance to participation, and monitors regulatory changes that can impact operations. While BVT has been closed, the cafeteria is not currently serving meals. Many local food banks and pantries throughout the Blackstone Valley are opening their doors to those who may need access to additional food resources.


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