The 2020 NC Teachers of the Year (NCTOY) Team is partnering with No Kid Hungry NC to share their perspectives on child nutrition programs that keep students healthy and ready to learn.

2020 NC Teacher of the Year Maureen Stover (Cumberland County Schools) recorded a video to introduce the partnership between No Kid Hungry NC and the 2020 NCTOY Team — which includes the eight regional Teacher of the Year finalists from across the state — and explain why teachers are invested in the success of child nutrition programs. Watch the video below or click here to find it on YouTube.

“I hope that you will join us on this journey as we explore unique ways that school districts across the state are meeting our students’ basic needs and combatting food insecurity,” Maureen shares in the video.

You can also hear more from Maureen and others on Wednesday, Oct. 28 during No Kid Hungry NC’s session at the virtual NCASCD Whole Child Conference.

Alleghany County Schools: The “Heart” of the School

2020 NC Northwest Regional Teacher of the Year Maggie Murphy (Alleghany County Schools) shares this story:

Piney Creek Elementary school sits nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is surrounded by a community that supports all the students that attend this community school. The teachers and the staff are all a huge part of that intentional structure.

At the heart of that is our cafeteria staff. These three ladies see each student in the school every day. They not only lay eyes on these children though, they speak their names, they feed their bodies, and they nourish them emotionally as well. But this has been limited this year due to COVID-19.

Shannon, April, and Jaylene sprang into action at the onset of the pandemic. They packed coolers to take on buses. They wrote notes to students. They kept students in our community fed in a time when food insecurity was at an all-time high.

This happened in schools throughout my district. The dedicated cafeteria professionals have taken on the task of feeding ALL students – and have done so with willing and loving hearts.

They are certainly the heroes of school closure!

Feeding kids has been a priority in our community. I learned in a school board meeting last year about the amount of money our county was going in debt each year due to unpaid lunch accounts. The community immediately worked to resolve this. In one fundraiser, we had more than enough to wipe the meal debt. Our community knows the value of investing in students. We, without hesitation, must feed the kids: body, mind, and soul!


Elkin City Schools: A Grandmother’s Legacy

2020 NC Piedmont-Triad Regional Teacher of the Year Tonya Smith (Elkin City Schools) shares this story:

Growing up, I was blessed to have my maternal grandmother live with me. For as long as I can remember, my late grandmother awoke before dawn, got dressed and began her walk to work because she didn’t have her license. We lived 1/2 mile from North Elkin School where she worked in the school cafeteria. No weather ever stopped her. Why did she do this? She believed in feeding students. She knew students couldn’t learn on empty stomachs. Before the regulations we have today, she would bag up extra food and meet bus drivers at the bus circle to give to students she knew would not have dinner. She took pride in her work, the food she prepared, and the service she provided.

The current school nutrition team at Elkin City Schools honors my grandmother’s legacy by providing delicious, nutritious meals for our students. The pride they have shown during this difficult time of the COVID pandemic has been inspiring and evidenced by their hard work preparing daily meals, standing outside in all weather for delivery and pick up, all the while wearing a smile behind a mask. This post is to honor them! I am so proud of the cafeteria staff at Elkin City Schools! My grandmother is smiling with you. You are a loved and essential part of our school community!


Franklin County Schools: The Special Treatment

2020 NC North Central Regional Teacher of the Year Carol Forrest Smith (Franklin County Schools) shares this story:

At Long Mill Elementary School, we have the most amazing, committed school nutrition manager and chef! We are spoiled with the love she serves.

She goes above and beyond for the students and staff who enjoy meals every day, but we have one sweet second grader who really gets outstanding treatment! Meet Porsha Hayes, our chef and friend. And meet Devon, a very special and loved student. Devon has very specific food prep needs and Ms. Porsha makes sure this fellow gets everything that all of the other students enjoy. If we come into the cafeteria smelling chicken, spaghetti, pizza, or any other yummy lunch, we know that the very same hot lunch has been pureed and prepared for Devon as well. Even during remote learning, Miss Porsha has prepared special meals for Devon.

It is this commitment, love, and dedication to our students that makes Porsha the best of the best! We love you Ms. Porsha!


Snapshots from Western NC

2020 NC Western Regional Teacher of the Year Dawn Gilchrist (Jackson County Public Schools) shares the voices of people working to feed kids across the Western NC region:

Jackson County Public Schools

When schools went fully remote in mid-March, we established six school meal pick up locations. Anyone 18 or younger could participate for FREE.

From March to June, we had between 10 and 36 yellow buses delivering meals. Hourly employees such as teacher assistants and janitors helped us the entire time in the operation. We also had help from the National Guard and local volunteers who helped pack meals, load meals, ride on buses, and help in the pick-up lines. We served 256,369 meals by bus during this time!

In October, we started sending home meals with students whose parents requested them online. We have also been working with each of the school’s social workers to identify students who may be food insecure. We are hopeful we can send home five days worth of meals prior to upcoming holidays.

— Laura Cabe, Child Nutrition Director, Jackson County Public Schools


Swain County Schools

In terms of greatest successes, I think it would be our teamwork and ability to focus on a common goal of feeding our kids.

In terms of greatest needs, school cafeteria workers are a skilled, well-trained workforce and deserve to be paid as such. The people are what make the program, and I would like to see them paid accordingly.

Another need I advocate for is universal-free meal programs for all students enrolled in public schools. This would cut back on so much paperwork, eliminate stigmas of being on free lunch, and just be better overall for our children and community.

— Jennifer Brown, Director of School Food Service, Swain County Schools


Buncombe County Schools

COVID 19 has put all our lives in a tailspin. Unemployment, quarantine and illness have families in our community struggling to find the necessities of everyday life.

We are providing 150+ food boxes each week to students and families. These are being delivered by school social workers. The BCS Family Resource Center operates 100% on donations from individuals, local businesses, and faith-based organizations. Our goal is to help support our 44 schools and their students and families.

— Shannon Boyd, School Social Worker and Homeless Child Liaison

Ocracoke Island: It Takes A Village

2020 NC Northeast Regional Teacher of the Year Jeanie Owens (Hyde County Schools) shares this story:

On Ocracoke Island, it really does take a village… every day!

That phrase rang particularly true last year after Hurricane Dorian devastated our island. Homes, businesses, churches, and our school were destroyed. As a result, our K-12 school was split into three campuses: the Ocracoke daycare building housed PreK through first grade; second to fifth graders remained in the upstairs of the elementary building; middle school and high school students met in the NC Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT) building thanks to the generosity and patience of the NCCAT Board of Directors and staff.

After nearly a month without school, our principal, Leslie Cole, and superintendent, Stephen Basnight, worked tirelessly to see that we were able to return to a somewhat normal school day. This included finding ways for our students and staff to receive lunches. You see, we don’t have a cafeteria at Ocracoke School. In fact, most students and staff go home for lunch. The hurricane, however, created food insecurities for our families. Understanding the severity of this, Mrs. Cole created partnerships with various outside organizations as well as local community groups to make sure that our students and faculty were fed every day.

Then, in November, NCCAT took over meal preparations. Ocracoke NCCAT Campus Manager Regina Boor, along with Chef Chris Howarth, Tina Robinson, and Beach O’Neal, provided breakfast and lunch for our students and staff until the end of the school year (even continuing during our COVID-19 imposed virtual learning). I remember my 5th graders getting so excited over picking their favorite selections each week, spreading around the classroom at lunch to dig into their delicious meal, and always, always asking for seconds… or thirds!

My NC Regional Teacher of the Year colleagues taught me a phrase that the Masai culture uses in their everyday greetings, Kasserian ingera, which means, “How are the children?” On Ocracoke, we focus on this question every day. We have made great strides to feed our students’ stomachs with nutritious food, heal their emotions with much needed social and emotional support, and grow their minds by continuing to educate them whether in-person or online. Our children are the heart and soul of our village and putting their needs first is our priority!