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'Doing my part' | School lunch heroes recognized for work during COVID-19 pandemic

Houston ISD Nutrition Services received a proclamation from Mayor Sylvester Turner.

HOUSTON — It might be Teacher Appreciation Week, but teachers aren't the only school staff members being honored. Those who’ve helped keep students and others fed during the pandemic are getting special recognition as well.

“You know, they thank us all the time,” Houston Independent School District Nutrition Services employee Carmond Thomas said of the families she's met over the last year.

She's been with HISD for 31 years and came out of the cafeteria when the department partnered with the Houston Food Bank to staff multiple distribution sites like the one at Barnett Stadium.

More than 44 million pounds of food and supplies have been given out so far.

"They wave at us, we wave at them," Thomas said. "You know, it just makes you feel good to know that you’re helping someone.”

Many employees have been on the job six days a week since the pandemic began, making sure HISD students, three out of four of whom live below the poverty line, don’t go hungry.

"Don’t forget, we were on the front lines during the deep freeze," HISD Nutrition Officer Betti Wiggins said. "Who did the Mayor call to ensure families got fed? He called HISD.”

A proclamation signed by Mayor Sylvester Turner sets aside this coming Friday as “HISD National School Lunch Hero Day,” which coincides with a national appreciation day.

"And they’re doing it because they want to celebrate each and every one of you,” one supervisor said to the HISD employees.

Thomas said shoutouts are nice, but her primary motivation remains the children and their families.

"No, it’s not about being recognized," Thomas said.  "It’s just about me doing my part, that’s all.”

Read the mayor's proclamation here:

HISD National School Lunch Hero Day

May 7. 2021

WHEREAS Houston Independent School District’s Nutrition Services department continually goes above and beyond to accomplish their mission of providing students with good food that is nutritious, flavorful, colorful, wholesome, and locally sourced. Staff provide breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks to students at no-cost, striving while they work to connect with and positively impact HISD students.

WHEREAS three out of four HISD students live below the poverty line and one in four children in Harris County are considered food insecure.

WHEREAS Nutrition Services expanded their reach in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, quickly developing new partnerships and innovative methods to safely feed students AND their families in times of need. Thinking outside the box and aiming to meet the needs of all families, the team created and implemented several new models — including campus-based curbside pickup, largescale community distributions, and direct delivery to apartment complexes with large student populations — while maintaining standard school cafeteria service for students learning in-person.

WHEREAS Nutrition Services staff have worked six-days-a-week since the start of the pandemic, distributing more than 44 million pounds of food and household supplies to families and staffing more than 10,000 distribution sites. The department has prepared and served more than 8.8 million meals and is on track to serve more than 21 million meals by the end of June.

WHEREAS Nutrition Services also responds in the wake of natural disasters, such as the devastating February 2021 winter storm. After the storm, the team joined forces with the City of Houston, Houston Texans, and Houston Food Bank to host several mass community distributions providing food and household supplies to families in crisis.

WHEREAS Nutrition Services also aims to go beyond the plate, teaching students about the importance of nutritious food and healthy lifestyles so they feel empowered by their food choices and understand their impacts. Nutrition Services teaches these principals through the Food and Agriculture Literacy program, which is integrated with HISD core curriculum and reinforces STEAAM principals through 84 school gardens and a working farm, where students can get hands-on experience.

THEREFORE, I, Sylvester Turner, Mayor of the City of Houston, hereby proclaim May 7, 2021 as HISD National School Lunch Hero Day