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Some Heroes Don’t Wear Capes- They Wear Aprons

Some Heroes Don’t Wear Capes- They Wear Aprons

Some Heroes Don’t Wear Capes- They Wear Aprons


This May is the 8th Annual School Lunch Hero Day, to thank everyone involved in serving nutritious school breakfasts and lunches to Arizona’s children. Healthy school meals support the growth, learning, and physical activity of children around our state. While schools are closed and the pandemic impacts our daily lives, school meals are still being made, packed, and served. Now, more than ever, it's important to thank these special people for what they do for our families. AZ Health Zone had the pleasure of speaking with two school food service directors about what they do and how it’s been affected by COVID-19. 


Shannon Reina, Food Service Director for Salt River Schools, says a normal day includes ordering food, supervising the schools’ kitchen staff, and writing reports on the number of meals served. Since schools have been closed, she has been working hard to oversee the kitchens and schedule enough workers and volunteers to pack and serve about 700 to-go meals every day. Erin Bronner, Child Nutrition and Wellness Director for the Creighton School District, says her normal day has changed a lot in order to meet new food service restrictions and guidelines for safety. Erin said, “In the beginning, every day – even multiple times in a day, we were getting new information to follow and send out [to staff].”


Shelves in grocery stores around the state have been empty at times and some areas have been hit worse than others. It has been hard to find certain food items for both school and home kitchens. Reina says it's been challenging “trying to stick to the meal pattern and trying to find the food. We were out of bread for a while.” When cold, pre-packaged items are out of stock from the manufacturers, Reina’s team gets creative with the food they already have in stock. Salt River Schools created a special menu that serves three hot lunches and two hot breakfasts a week for variety and to make up for items that are out of stock. Bronner said that their district also had to change their menus and the types of food they usually order. “Food manufacturers have been meeting with food service directors and are being flexible,” says Bronner about what food ordering is like at this time. 


Salt River Schools distributes meals every Monday through Friday at Salt River High School. Creighton School District distributes seven days’ worth of breakfast and lunch meals every Wednesday at all nine of the district’s schools and at nine different bus stops. On their busiest days in the last five weeks, Salt River Schools served about 1200 meals in one day, and Creighton School District served 63,000 meals in one week! The directors have noticed “phenomenal” responses from their communities since they began this new style of food service. This shows that even in difficult times, acts of kindness are greatly appreciated. Reina mentioned that tribes have shared tents and equipment to keep workers and volunteers cool. One day, a member of the Salt River community made three trips to the school to pick up meals for students who didn’t have transportation. Bronner says it’s been rewarding to see the teamwork among everyone in the school districts. She also enjoys seeing the same families each week and building relationships with them. Even though there are challenges, these directors, their teams, and their communities show us what it means to be a hero. “Our past director had us be ready for any situation and have certain items in stock, and [told us] the community is going to look to us for support,”says Reina, as she mentions past advice that had them ready for an emergency plan. 


Reina is thankful for teachers who have volunteered to help, and three kitchen staff members who “haven’t missed a day since day one; always happy and willing to work even in 100-degree weather.” The employees she would like to recognize are: Natasha Martinez, Jose Hernandez, and Gilbert Reyes. Bronner thanks her whole team of kitchen staff, teachers, food manufacturers, and transportation and maintenance staff. She says, “Everyone has really stepped up.” Bronner would also like to thank “all food service workers across the state, for being brave people on the frontlines.” 


The AZ Health Zone team wants to thank: Shannon Reina and Erin Bronner for their time and for sharing their experiences with us, the Department of Education for supporting this article, and all Arizona school food service workers. Your dedication to nourish our state’s children makes you all heroes. 

For information on where to find free meals to-go for kids 18 years old and younger during school closures, please visit the AZ Health Zone Meal Site Map.