Cafeteria Employees Recognized as School Lunch Heroes

They are the frontline employees greeting students across the country everyday, providing a friendly face and a nourishing meal. They get to know the children by name and help create memorable meals and moments in the cafeteria.  

The national, non-profit School Nutrition Association (SNA) received hundreds of nominations of stellar cafeteria professionals and awarded six Regional Employees of the Year. The award was created to recognize outstanding school nutrition employees who exhibit a remarkable commitment to both their school meal program and the students they serve. Meet the 2022 winners, who will be celebrated together with colleagues across the country as part of School Lunch Hero Day on May 6, 2022:

Annie Davis, Northwest Elementary School, Lenoir County School District, NC

Annie Davis, Cafeteria Assistant at Northwest Elementary School in Lenoir County School District, NC, the Southeast regional Employee of the Year

Davis is described as an excellent communicator and a person who steps up as a leader among the school nutrition staff. She creates a positive environment for her co-workers and the students who visit the school cafeteria, often playing music in the kitchen and helping with creative bulletin boards to display lunch menus.

On numerous occasions, Davis has stepped up and taken over for managers to ensure smooth operations.  Davis takes pride in the food being served to students and has been known to pull something from the line and communicate changes immediately to the school’s principal to improve menu offerings.

She also pays extra attention to detail when it comes to children with food allergies.  If she doesn’t know the student, she calls the district central office for more details and ensures proper protocols are followed when serving them. Davis works hard to meet the needs of every student who comes through the lunch line and makes sure everyone has a positive experience in the cafeteria. 

School districts across the country have faced supply chain and staffing shortages since the pandemic began. Davis is described as a creative problem solver in these situations, coming up with efficient solutions and suggesting different ways of doing something to benefit students or staff members.

Lori Dyson, Estacada High School, Estacada School District, OR

Lori Dyson, lead cook at Estacada High School in the Estacada School District, OR, the Northwest regional Employee of the Year 

Lori Dyson has the ability to think outside the box and bring innovative recipes and systems to her kitchen. She gets excited to share ideas and is an instrumental member of the team, working with nutrition department staff to help with menu suggestions, production systems and marketing ideas. 

Dyson’s leadership during the pandemic helped create a smooth transition from in-person breakfast and lunch service to prepping over 800 bags of to-go meals daily, handed out via bus routes in the community.

She brings levity to stressful situations with her daily food jokes and silly costumes on holidays.  She is always ready with a smile for both students and staff and always steps up to lend a hand when needed.  

Joni Delgado, Morongo Unified School District, CA

Joni Delgado, Account Technician at Morongo Unified School District, CA, the West regional Employee of the Year

During her nearly two decades of working in the school nutrition industry, Delgado has gone above and beyond her job, taking on additional roles when needed. While her job as an account technician is in an office, she was out serving to-go meals at the curb week after week during the pandemic. She has been known to show up to work on Saturdays to receive orders to ensure her schools and students get what they need.

As supply chain shortages impacted many school districts across the country, Delgado didn’t let it get in the way of feeding the children of the district. Described as having great problem solving skills, Delgado drove to a vendor to pick up and then deliver products to all 15 school sites when the district was not able to receive a product on time.

Joni Delgado also has a way of helping keep morale high among her co-workers and peers. She’s been known to bring in homemade cupcakes for birthdays and write notes of encouragement to staff members. Her co-workers know they can count on her for support on a daily basis. 

Jennifer Lynn Foraker, Central Elementary, Lake Forest School District, DE

Jennifer Lynn Foraker, cook/baker at Central Elementary in Lake Forest School District, DE, the Mideast regional Employee of the Year

Jennifer Lynn Foraker knows all the children who come through the lunch line by name, many of them affectionately refer to her as “mom.” The students benefit every day from her creativity. She was recently tasked to create soup recipes to serve at lunch and developed five recipes, motivating students in line to try them. Needless to say they were very popular with both students and staff.

Managers have taken notice of Foraker’s calming demeanor; she’s often asked to train newly hired employees because of it. She trains them on how to use the production book to plan for each day’s entrée and asks “what if” questions to encourage critical thinking.

Foraker is a team player who stepped up to fill vacancies at other school kitchens when employees were out during the pandemic. She also helped streamline the meal box pickup system when schools were remote. Instead of having families park and walk to the door, she had them stay in their vehicles and pop the trunk for staff to load meals into vehicles, cutting down the time families were in line and assuring minimal exposure for all. 

Foraker volunteers in the community and enjoys interacting with the families of the students at the District’s annual community day.

Angela Fagan, York High School, York Public Schools, ME

Angela Fagan, York High School Food Service Assistant at York Public Schools, ME, the Northeast regional Employee of the Year

Angela Fagan is a creative and caring team member.  While she has many talents, salads are her school lunch speciality.  When she took on the project to expand salad offerings, her school only served around 10 entrée salads daily, but her new restaurant-worthy recipes were greeted with such enthusiasm by students and staff that the school now serves between 50 – 75 salads a day. The district shares her salad creations on its social media pages and hears from parents and staff who look forward to seeing what she comes up with next.

Fagan goes above and beyond to care for her student customers. When questioned on why she was making one student’s salad with specific ingredients, she responded with care that change was difficult for the student and she was happy to make one part of his day easy.  She has been seen on multiple occasions standing up for students who get picked on and often provides an ear to listen to them or offers advice.

On days when her high school wasn’t in session, Fagan asked to go to other schools in the district to observe how things work there. She’s always looking for the opportunity to learn from other teams and bring successful new innovations to her high school.

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 6. Students, faculty and parents across the country will show their appreciation with thanks, cards and recognition for their cafeteria staff. Visit www.SchoolLunchHeroDay.com for more information.

In addition to the 10th Anniversary of School Lunch Hero Day, this year also marks the return of the Lunch Lady graphic novels which are being re-released in new, full-color editions along with full-cast audio books featuring Kate Flannery from The Office. 

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