In celebration of School Lunch Hero Day (SLHD) on May 6, the School Nutrition Association (SNA) has announced the winners of annual awards designed to recognize the efforts of school nutrition professionals to ensure that all students have access to healthy meals.
Robert Rolfe, school nutrition director for Henderson County Public Schools in North Carolina won the National Director of the Year Award while Sharon Owensby, SNS, catering manager at Lee’s Summit High School in Missouri, won the National Manager of the Year Award, and Stephanie Sheley, cook at Holmen High School in Wisconsin, earned the National Employee of the Year Award
“Supply chain issues and staffing shortages have presented persistent challenges for school nutrition professionals, but it does not stop them from having a positive impact on their students and ensuring all who go through their cafeteria lines get a nutritious meal,” comments SNA President Beth Wallace, MBA, SNS. “The dedication shown by these school lunch heroes during the last two years of the pandemic has been astounding and inspiring.”
This year marks the 10th anniversary of SLHD, and 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 school nutrition professionals with 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.
The awards program received nominations for school nutrition employees, managers and directors at the state level, and those winners were considered for awards within seven regions across the country. Of those regional winners, Rolfe, Owensby and Sheley were chosen for the national awards for their achievements in child nutrition.
Rolfe in 2017 had helped roll out a summer meals program that now serves students at several school sites and from two buses with 22 “Meals on the Bus” stops in the community. During the summer of 2020, the district had multiple school sites open and expanded its “Meals on the Bus” routes to feed students during the pandemic.
By teaming up with a local organization, he encouraged composting at six of the district’s elementary schools. The district works with the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program and when the budget allows, Rolfe encourages an introduction of unconventional fruits and vegetables to the elementary students.
Owensby stepped up when the COVID pandemic closed schools, as she and the team worked hard to ensure all the children in the community were fed by setting up the high school for curbside operations. She created flyers to hand out with meals, encouraging parents to share information on the COVID meal service with other families. Her efforts during this time were recently acknowledged with the Character Award of Perseverance at the Mayor’s Breakfast in Lee’s Summit. Before serving as the district’s catering manager, Owensby held multiple positions during her 13-year career with the district.
Owensby also seek student input on menu items and tries to incorporate foods they request, such as adding vegetable cups, bento boxes, hummus and most recently, a coffee bar in the school.
Sheley has been described as creative, always smiling and a good mentor. She has been instrumental in designing the school’s premium Grab-n-Go Salads. Offering everything from Chicken Bacon Ranch salad to Cranberry Walnut Blue Cheese salad, she’s raised the bar on typical school cafeteria menus while the salad bar she designed for the high school rivals any restaurant in the area. Parents frequently tell school employees how much their students love it.
In addition to the national award winners, SNA is recognizing these regional award winners..
Employee of the Year:
Mideast: Jennifer Lynn Foraker, Lake Forest Schools, DE
Midwest: Stephanie Sheley, School District of Holmen, WI (National Winner)
Northeast: Angela Fagan, York Public Schools, ME
Southeast: Annie Davis, Lenoir County Public Schools, NC
Northwest: Lori Dyson, Estacada School District, OR
West: Joni Delgado, Morongo Unified School District, CA
Manager of the Year:
Mideast: Amy Uecker, West Clermont Local School District, OH
Midwest: Sharon Owensby, SNS, Lee’s Summit R-7 School District, MO (National Winner)
Northeast: Deb Timek, Meriden Public Schools, CT
Southeast: Bonnie Gassett, Virginia Beach City Public Schools, VA
Southwest: Crystal Jo Bruns, RE-1 Valley Schools District, CO
Northwest: Erika Santana, Highline Public Schools, WA
West: LaShawn Bray, Hesperia School District, Victorville, CA
Director of the Year:
Mideast: Lori McKean Brace, Wapakoneta City Schools, OH
Midwest: Coni Dobbels, Davenport Community School District, IA
Northeast: Allison Kimmel, Marion Center Area School District, PA
Southeast: Robert Rolfe, Henderson County Public Schools, NC (National Winner)
Southwest: Danielle Bock, SNS, Greeley-Evans Weld County School District 6, CO
Northwest: Jessa Youngers, Great Falls Public Schools, MT
West: Lisa Thrower, Yuma School District One, AZ