2020 Regional Employees of the Year Celebrated As Frontline Heroes

With each smile or kind word, cafeteria employees make a difference in children’s school days. This spring, those smiles are hidden under masks, but they are still there. 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 positively influence the quality of school meals through exemplary customer service. Meet the 2020 winners:

Amanda Wimer, cafeteria cook at Robert L. Bland Middle School, WV, the Mideast regional Employee of the Year.0-2

Amanda Wimer has been described as a “mother hen” to students she serves every day. Her students trust she will present healthy and delicious school meal options and she encourages them to try new foods and expand their palates. Wimer has received a lot of recognition over the years for the many flavors and ingredients she incorporates into recipes and new menu items. Her fruit and vegetable animal art has become legendary with students.

Dedicating her time to create a beautiful cafeteria experience, Wimer designs holiday and seasonal-themed bulletin boards for students to enjoy. She goes above and beyond to organize school bake sales, banquets and the community Halloween party. Colleagues have come to depend on Wimer; she’s a valuable member of the team who has also stepped up temporarily take over cafeteria manager duties numerous times over the years. She currently serves as vice president of her local state SNA chapter.

Wimer enthusiastically attends West Virginia SNA conferences, learning new skills and continuing her school nutrition and foodservice education. Wimer has received her professional certification and taught classes in garnishing at state conferences as well.

Rachel Gueningsman, assistant school cook at MACCRAY West, MN, the Midwest regional Employee of the Year.Rachel Gueningsman

Gueingsman has the special ability to make personal connections and remember names of over 200 students. The students are excited to see her every day and leave with huge smiles after enjoying her riddle of the day or nutrition education themed bulletin boards.

Gueingsman once surprised students with serving line characters made from raw vegetables and she coordinates the adventures of a mischievous Elf on the Shelf during the month of December. Taking scratch cooking to a new level, she ensures every student’s entrée is fresh and hot and she isn’t afraid to experiment with seasonings. While keeping sensitive to student allergies, Gueingsman allows students to get adventurous with their palettes. Gueningsman welcomes staff, parents and guests to eat with students, further promoting the nutritious meals prepared in her kitchen. MACCRAY West sees the highest rate of participation from adults in the district. She is always one of the first staff members to assist with extracurricular events that require school food, like early childhood events, Back to School and Board of Education meetings.

She partnered with her head cook to start a successful student cooking class, volunteering her time and applying for grants to cover the costs. Gueningsman believes in continued education and training. She attends the Minnesota School Nutrition Association’s State Annual Conference skills classes and participates in the Back to School bootcamp for additional training. Much of her training, which goes above and beyond district requirements, has been done on her own time. She has earned ServSafe and School Nutrition Specialist certifications.

Brittany Jones, cafeteria cook at Campbellsburg Elementary School, KY, the Southeast regional Employee of the Year.

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Jones with her son, Eli, in her school’s cafeteria kitchen.

Brittany Jones has helped to create a welcoming environment in her cafeteria, and the countless hugs she receives from students is a testament to how she makes them feel. She has helped increase participation and reduce food waste by creating unique food art, like individual smiling vegetable trays for her students.

To the delight of her students, Jones writes inspirational quotes on smoothie cups and other service line items. She has a soft spot for her students, creating a station where students with missing teeth can have someone cut their apples, and for kids who can’t open ketchup packets, she keeps a pair of scissors at the ready. She enjoys promoting her school’s meals and menus by wearing creative food clothing. Her hamburger hat and chicken leg T-shirt have become student favorites. In addition to educating her students about school meals, she also posts photos of the school lunch of the day on Facebook, allowing parents to see what their child is being served.

Jones is one of those employees who is always looking for solutions to any problem that may arise in her school’s cafeteria. When there was an issue with getting students and staff through service lines fast enough on Taco Day, she easily created a new service line, fixing the problem. She continues to focus on her education and training, working toward her level two certification and participating in the Kentucky SNA annual conference. Whether it be staying after school, or working in the kitchen for fall festival or on a Saturday for a bake sale for the chapter, Jones will be there representing the school meal program.

Tammy Belaire, foodservice technician at Early Learning Center, LA, the Southwest regional Employee of the Year.

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Louisiana SNA President-Elect
Amy Fremin (left) with Belaire.

Tammy Belaire has worked in the same district for 23 years, building positive relationships with students and fellow school nutrition professionals. She loves to brighten up students’ days by giving out Valentine’s Day cards or “Bee Bucks” for students who identify vegetables, tell her about their benefits or eat all of their vegetables. They can then use their “Bee Bucks” to make campus purchases.

She partners with teachers and uses flashcards to help students sound out words as they go through the lunch line. Belaire often dresses up as different characters to increase school breakfast and lunch participation. She has often purchased cafeteria decorations with her own money to provide a warm and fun environment for her students. To get Kindergarten students excited about their meals, she conducts food demonstrations when they tour the cafeteria. She shows them how yeast rolls are made and, for students who harvest the school garden, she conducts hands-on salad-making demonstrations.

When the cafeteria holds its annual Christmas raffle, Belaire leads the charge in securing sponsors for bikes, toys, clothes and food baskets for students and their families. This is an event that the cafeteria staff works on every year to ensure that their students have a wonderful holiday. Belaire has participated in School Nutrition Association of Louisiana state conferences for the past nine years. She has also attended the state Commodity Expo, and SNA’s Annual National Conference. A graduate of the state 2019 Leadership Academy, she has also led her school kitchen in her manager’s absence. She has coordinated local fundraising activities, such as the Pan & Knife Sale, Shrimp Boil Sale, Raffle Bake Sale and Pie Sale. Belaire has organized meetings and encouraged her peers to join local and state SNA to pursue continuing education to improve the school meal program.

Karmen Ivory, cafeteria cook and cashier at North Sanpete High School/Pleasant Creek School, UT, the West regional Employee of the Year. unnamed-5

Karmen Ivory is an inspiration, who excels in her career in school foodservice, while holding two other jobs. In the schools where she serves, Ivory is a mother figure to many students, who are respectful in her presence because of the compassion and respect she shows them. Ivory is also very creative, finding ways to serve students’ favorite foods in delicious ways. She is known for trying new recipes and offering options for students and staff with food allergies. Ivory does what she can to accommodate her co-workers, manager and supervisor.

She is always willing to go the extra mile and make things better than expected. Ivory works in the local grocery store, running the service desk. Students light up when they see her in the store and can’t wait to talk to her in or out of school. According to her peers, she makes everyone feel loved. Ivory also works in the summer program to make sure the students and their siblings receive a healthy meal when school is out. Ivory has enjoyed attending Utah School Nutrition Association state conferences every year since she started working. She schedules her other jobs around chapter meetings and professional trainings.

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