New York City Department of Education Hunger Heroes

Throughout the pandemic, staff members of the Office of Food and Nutrition Services (OFNS) at the New York City Department of Education have worked tirelessly to provide nutritious meals to students and community members across the city. From March 2020, staff members have served over 100 million meals to New Yorkers across the five boroughs. To celebrate the incredible work of these staff members, we are honored to highlight 32 members of the OFNS team – one from each district – who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to feed kids and community members. Read more about these Hunger Heroes below!

Pedro has always stepped up to challenges and surpassed all expectations. He has been an exemplary employee since he came onboard 13 years ago. Pedro often says, “It is my responsibility to respond when needed.” He currently is acting Cook-in-Charge and it is a pleasure to watch him in action. It’s like a one-man band performance, with all the instruments in sync. Pedro, thank you so much for all you do for PS140 students, and for keeping your kitchen the cleanest one of them all!

Aretha has been with Office of Food and Nutrition Services for 18 years. She has always had pride in the food she prepares and serves to the students daily. Throughout the pandemic she worked extremely hard to cook meals for families in the community during this time of need. Aretha displays exemplary work and deserves to be named a Hunger Hero!

Brittany embodies what a school food service professional should be. She’s reliable, energetic, caring and always puts the students’ needs first. Brittany is currently covering 5 schools and navigating through countless challenges. Her tireless efforts ensure that over 1,000 students enjoy a nutritious and delicious breakfast, lunch, supper and snack daily! Brittany’s leadership and planning are essential to the success of our daily service.

Ms. Rodriguez is the Cook-In-Charge at Central Park East High School, and is a dedicated staff member and a great leader. She always goes beyond expectations to get the job done, and to provide the best experience to our students and school community.

Ms. Belja is a great team player. She is always willing to assist her follow managers in any way possible, and goes above and beyond to feed kids in her community. She truly cares about providing the students with a healthy meal daily, especially as many of her students are in the shelter system. Thank you for all you do, SnezHana!

Consuelo Caballero is a cook you want to clone and spread throughout the district. She loves her job and takes pride in the delicious meals she puts out every day for students. Not only was she responsible for cooking for the students during the Covid-19 school building shutdown, but she also found herself cooking for the school community. As the need in the community grew during unprecedented times and long lines formed outside the school, being able to provide food for the community filled her heart with satisfaction and gave her a sense of pride as she came to work every day.

Ana Blanco is not just a great cook, but she’s also a great leader. The school where she works was a community feeding site throughout the pandemic, serving meals to all who needed them. Her punctuality, effort and enthusiasm to serve the students and community is something to admire. She always has a contagious smile and a positive attitude!

Ms. Ramirez has proven to be an exemplary employee throughout this pandemic by showing commitment and leadership with the Office of Food and Nutrition Services. Ms. Ramirez is the head cook of our CEE school in District 8 and even though the school has limited staff, she still ensures that all students that come to the service line receive a meal. Ms. Ramirez goes above and beyond to get the job done, and she is often recognized in a positive manner by the administration in the building. Ms. Ramirez is very consistent with her commitment to this organization and the students, and so she deserves to be recognized as a Hunger Hero!

Ms. Lightfoot has been working in District 9 for over ten years. During her time working in the district she has moved from school to school to aide when needed, not only in the capacity of a school lunch helper but also as a cook. Ms. Lightfoot is highly motivated and has a hunger to learn, and excels at whatever she put her mind to. During this pandemic time Ms. Lightfoot is always available when needed, and never with a frown. Thank you, Ms. Lightfoot. You are appreciated!

Marixa Lopez, Senior School Lunch Helper and Acting Office Manager has been a District 10 stalwart for nearly 25 years. Marixa has had perfect attendance since the pandemic outbreak including working the entire Summer Rising meal program. She comes in early and stays late. She is responsible for assigning substitutes and redirecting permanent staff to ensure all 70 schools in District 10 have coverage and that meal service remains uninterrupted. This is no easy feat! Marixa’s commitment to service is unwavering, compassionate, and dependable. She counsels and encourages co-workers to ensure no neighborhood school is under-served and assures all her fellow hunger heroes in the district are paid accurately and timely.

Mr. James Baker is one of our most outstanding workers in District 11. He has and continues to go above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that the children of PS 108 receive their meals. In the summer when the district was struggling, when asked if he could come in to assist, he came in for an additional 3 weeks without hesitation. Mr. Baker is one of the hardest working employees in District 11. His attendance and punctuality are immaculate. District 11 is very fortunate and grateful to have such hard-working employees, and would like to acknowledge James Baker for his hard work and dedication and let him know how much we appreciate him.

Marjorie Coates is a cook at PS 211. She is dedicated to providing the best service while serving nutritious meals for the children. At PS 211, Ms. Coates and her team deliver 540 breakfasts to the students and prepare 500 lunches every day, as well as providing 100 satellite breakfasts to another school. As a testament to her character, Ms. Coates has offered her services to students not only at PS 211, but also in the district where she helped to prepare and serve 115 hot suppers for an afterschool program when employees were unavailable. The generosity, concern, and enthusiasm that she has exhibited in her role is nothing short of remarkable. Ms. Coates has demonstrated her commitment to being more than excellent even when completing the simplest tasks.

Ms. Gonzalez is one of the first employees in every day and the last person to leave. She prepares and serves breakfast, lunch, and supper to the students at P.S. 8 with a big smile every day. She goes above and beyond to make sure the students receive nutritious meals, and is very hospitable with a kind heart. She’s always willing to help and works as a team. Thank you, Ms. Gonzalez!

Ms. Anderson is a dedicated employee who goes above and beyond at all times to ensure that her students are well fed with safe meals. She recently she was on vacation, but decided to return early as she knew that her district was short-staffed and needed her. Allison Anderson is an exemplary employee and an asset to the Office of Food and Nutrition District 14 Team. She deserves to be named a Hunger Hero for all her hard work!

Maria Rivera has worked the summer feeding program for the past three years at the Brooklyn School of the Arts (BSA). Maria has received multiple well-earned Employee Recognition letters from BSA’s administration describing her perfect attendance and demeanor. Assistant Principal Weit stated in his letters that he “truly believes Ms. Rivera fed more students this summer than in the past three combined”. He attributes the participation increase to the bond that was formed between Maria and the students. Maria is so warm and welcoming. She greets each student with a smile, and because they could not resist a meal from her she played an important role in jumpstarting each student’s day. Maria is a significant member of our OFNS team, and deserves to be named a Hunger Hero.

School Food Service Manager Cherise Neal is a Hunger Hero. She has over 19 years of service working with the Office of Food and Nutrition Services. She is a dedicated professional, and currently serves the District 16 community with so much enthusiasm for the job that she inspires others to be and do better. She continually goes above and beyond to meet and exceed the needs of the school community and the community at large. She is an outstanding School Food Service Manager, who shows professionalism daily, is team and goal oriented, and is someone that her coworkers and employees look up to. She’s rarely absent and steps in at a moment’s notice whenever or wherever the need arises to lend a hand. These are just some of the many reasons why she is truly an example of a Hunger Hero.

Tyrone has worked through the entire COVID-19 pandemic and shows up every day to work with a smile on his face. He is a dedicated worker with over 14 years of service who ensures that the kids in his school community are fed healthy and nutritious meals. Tyrone has gone above and beyond for his district, is always willing to learn and continues to be a great asset. He truly exemplifies what it means to be a Hunger Hero!

Ms. Johnston is always ready to serve the students with a big and sweet smile, even when many of the kitchen staff are absent. Ms. Johnston is well known for cooking delicious food with fantastic presentation that makes kids excited to eat school meals. The school administration and students adore her, and for good reason!

Albert Robinson is asset to not only the Maxwell High School community, but also to the neighbors surrounding the school building. During the height of pandemic, Mr. Robinson stayed after his scheduled work hours to ensure that meals were available to the public. Thank you, Mr. Robinson for your dedication to District 19!

Mr. Uddin is an angel staff member! He worked through the whole pandemic with a positive attitude and without missing a day of work. He is always willing to do whatever is necessary to serve the school community. Mr. Uddin is a blessing for District 20, and deserves to be named a Hunger Hero!

Terencia is a dedicated member of the Office of Food and Nutrition Services team. She works tirelessly to ensure that all children within her reach have been fed. Her immense dedication was most evident during the pandemic where her leadership came into play while providing meals to the public. She leads her team with excellence and is an asset to this organization.

Sophia is a dedicated OFNS employee. She has a perfect attendance record, showing up to work daily to serve the students of PS 193. She knows every student by name and serves them with a smile. The administration loves her and appreciates her hard work!

Yonnette Welcome is a fixture in the district and the school community. She was present every day though the pandemic, ready to serve the students and community members. During the school building closures, Yonnette was assigned to a community feeding site. Her positive presence made the community consider her a part of their family.

Ms. Ruth Quizhpe’s dedication to her school is outstanding. Whether the kitchen is fully staffed or not, she makes sure that students at IS 61 are always provided with breakfast and lunch, serving over 2000 meals daily on a timely manner. Regardless of all the challenges that her kitchen has faced due to the unprecedented times brought on by the pandemic, Ms. Quizhpe is someone who always goes above and beyond to serve the students and community. Thank you, Ms. Quizhpe, for all that you do!

In an environment where it’s a daily struggle with labor shortages, there’s no end to Jessica’s positivity, dedication and leadership. She reports to work with a smile, and is always ready to dive in wherever needed. Recently, when there was a lack of volunteers to assist in a school that had no Cook or Assistant Cook in Charge. Jessica took time out after working hours to assist with paperwork and extra cleaning. She never says no; instead, she always asks, how can I help? Due to Jessica’s hard work, care and attention to detail, her work site is exemplary. While our entire team pitched in, Jessica truly deserves some extra praise for her dedication that keeps us all moving in the right direction. She keeps her staff grounded and focused. Thank you, Jessica for your leadership and positive attitude!

Lisa Fusco has provided the Office of Food and Nutrition Services 22 years of dedicated service. She runs her schools efficiently, communicates well, and is highly involved. Her staff shows her great dedication and loyalty because of the kind of manager she is and her colleagues respect her in her role as the senior manager in the district. She sets an amazing example for the rest of the team and is selected often to train new staff and managers. Throughout the height of the pandemic she managed a community feeding site serving 4000 meals to the public. It was a tough and stressful time but Lisa did a wonderful job directing and managing the site.

Bella Tufano is the Cook-In-Charge at the Glen Morris School, PS 100, in Queens. Earlier this year, while recovering from the debilitating effects of COVID-19, Ms. Tufano received the most devastating medical diagnosis – she had cancer. Despite the shocking news, she kept a positive outlook and returned to work to do what she loved to do. Ms. Tufano’s dedication to her job was exemplified when she scheduled all her treatments for the very early hours of the morning so that she could be at work. She returned to work each day after her treatment and performed her tasks with passion, care and diligence, never complaining about her aches, pains or any discomfort she may have been experiencing.
Ms. Tufano’s dedication to her job and the students of PS 100 exemplifies true heroism.

Ophelia has been employed with the Office of Food and Nutrition Services since 1998. Through the years, Ophelia has been promoted to her present title of School Lunch Assistant/Cook at Hillcrest High School. Her dedication and devotion towards the students she serves on a daily basis is exceptional. Her professionalism that she shows every day reflects on her staff which makes Ophelia a model staff member for our organization and a great asset.

Mr. Joel Baptiste is not only always present but often reports to work early despite inclement weather and does not hesitate to stay late to ensure that the work is completed and the kitchen is left in a clean and ready state. He is a truly a team player and great role model for his staff, constantly motivating them despite this unprecedented time where a staff shortages is at an all-time high. One day this fall, the entire staff at a high school called out. Mr. Baptiste left his permanent school and came over immediately without any hesitation to help prepare meals. Despite the lack of staff, all of the students were fed a nutritious meal. Mr. Baptiste is still helping out at this school with his assertiveness and positive attitude, and since his arrival the attendance at this school has improved tremendously. He definitely deserves the title Hunger Hero!

Treza Ayoub, Senior School Lunch Aide/Cook of PS 149 has proudly served her school community as the Cook-In-Charge since 1998. PS 149, located in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens, was one that suffered greatly during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the Cook-In-Charge, she oversaw the kitchen serving thousands of meals to the community. Treza is always advocating for the students, making sure that there are meals available for any student who wants one. This was especially true when in April 2021, an 8-alarm fire damaged an apartment building several blocks from the school where a group of students lived. Treza, along with the support of the school administration, made sure that any student who was not able to attend school that day was still able to pick up a breakfast and/or lunch. Even though they were displaced from their homes, the students and their families did not have to worry about where their next meal would come from, while having to deal with everything else following the devastating fire. Way to go Treza!

Mr. Aboelenin is a phenomenal Cook. Everything that he presents is with children in mind. He is dedicated and has a wealth of knowledge that he shares with the staff. He makes you want to eat, and that alone is an art form—especially when dealing with children! Thank you, Mr. Aboelenin, for being such an incredible asset to our school community!

Luis is a diligent employee who shows up to work every day, even throughout the school building closures during the pandemic. He worked to provide thousands of meals to students and the community, making sure everyone had food to eat. He is very passionate about the work he does and has over 21 years of service with the Office of Food and Nutrition Services. Luis goes above and beyond daily for his kids, and always serves with a smile!