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Food service workers lauded for focus on nutrition
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The people who serve more meals in a single day than most homemakers will in a decade or more – the school nutrition employees of Warren County – celebrated a year of service, accomplishment and professional growth at their awards banquet Tuesday night.
And there are few better ways to celebrate than with an appealing, nutritious meal, including the healthful alternatives: chicken – baked, not fried – lasagna, fruit salad and baked potato. 
The event, held at Warren County High School, was the annual recognition program of the Warren County School Nutrition Association, an affiliate of the American School Nutrition Program. Melissa Livesay, an administrative employee with the Warren County schools food service program and current president of the Tennessee School Nutrition Association, was keynote speaker.
Besides promoting high-quality, healthful food choices for students, the organizations emphasize safety, both in food handling and accident prevention. Among the notable achievements of the past year, Wix noted, is the fact all Warren County schools scored at least 90 percent on at least one of their two annual state inspections. Seven schools repeated their 90-plus rating on both inspections – Bobby Ray, Centertown, Hickory Creek, Irving College, Morrison, West, and WCHS.
 On the other major objective,  2010-11 also represented the fourth consecutive year with no lost-time, on-the-job accident, despite the fact food service personnel are continually working with sharp instruments, power equipment that is unforgiving of carelessness, hot ovens and steamers, and often on wet, slippery floors. 
Ann Frye, who directs the nutrition program at West Elementary, was honored as Outstanding Cafeteria Manager of the Year. Wix cited several ways Frye boosted the nutritional quality of meals while trimming or eliminating known health hazards such as high doses of salt and fat.
Frye and West Elementary principal Marsha Newman earned praise also on the school’s 100-percent free breakfast program, inaugurated last week thanks to creative thinking and planning by system personnel. The number of students who qualify for federally funded, free- and reduced-price meals stands as a relative index to poverty. At West, 86 percent of the students are eligible for the program, the highest rate in the Warren County School System.
Local educators and nutritionists decided to pilot free-to-all breakfasts at West in part to test the theory, widely supported by research elsewhere, that students who are adequately fed are better at on-time attendance, behavior, self-discipline and academic achievement, Wix says. For many Warren County children, the schools provide the only proper and sufficient meals in their day, experts have consistently said.
 “I think this is going to be a win-win for all of us,” Frye remarked. One West student confessed she had never been through the school’s cafeteria food line prior to the free-to-all breakfast experiment. “She said she really liked it and would be back again.”
West Elementary has also been participating in a state-funded grant aimed at introducing children to fresh fruits and vegetables they might not otherwise encounter. Examples include different varieties of apples, pluots, pomegranates, strawberries, nectarines and star fruit. 
Throughout Tennessee and its 136 public school districts, only 14 schools have earned Silver Award status of the national Healthier U.S. School Challenge and its two-year accreditation. Warren County has claimed two of those 14 trophies – Bobby Ray and West – and state reviewers have accepted applications for two more local campuses, Eastside and Hickory Creek, Wix reports.
Singled out for individual honors were members who earned certification through formal education and creditable experience:
• Level One – Amanda Miller, Beverly Roberts, Debra Jo Shinabery, Ramona Cooper, Diane Goad, Vicki Grieves and Sonia Wilson
• Level Two – Sarah Cantrell
• Level Three – Ann Frye, Jean Wix, Melissa Livesay, Renee Griffith and Teresa Pedigo.           
Because the food service program operates under extremely tight financial limits, there is little if any operational tolerance for employee absences.
Employees who logged perfect attendance this year are: Judy Crouch (West), Melissa Livesay (central office), Faye Malone (Bobby Ray), Linda Templeton (WCMS), Renee Griffith (central office), Debra Jo Shinabery (Morrison), Russell Pedigo (central office) and Teresa Pedigo (central office).
Honored upon their retirements are: Jewell Wiser (33 years), Ruby Huntley (28 years), Faye Malone (16 years) and Jean Clendenon (10 years).
The chapter president’s Gold Achievement Award was conferred upon Renee Griffith. Joining county chapter president Griffith in the leadership of the local unit are Teresa Pedigo, vice president; Michelle Rackley, secretary; Diane Goad, treasurer; and Jean Wix, advisor.
In memorial honors, the program remembered the deaths of Deloris Elliott, 17-year employee who died Oct. 27, 2010, and nutrition program maintenance technician Mark Wayne Pennington, who died May 28, 2010.
Last month the Warren County schools nutrition program served an average of 4,750 lunches daily, after providing 2,169 breakfasts every morning.
Total expenses for the department for the 18 school days in March were $299,146.