- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 7, 2017

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) - As the food service manager at Leo Junior-Senior High School, Deborah Carper knows that the role she and her team of 12 play in students’ lives goes beyond feeding them nutritional meals.

Her childhood lunch lady could tell when she was hurting, she said, and she encourages her team to take an interest in students by complimenting their appearance, asking how they are or commenting on a new outfit.

“This may be the only place they have someone say ‘hi’ to them,” Carper said.

Her work hasn’t gone unnoticed. The Indiana School Nutrition Association recently announced she received the Manager of the Year Award, which is considered the highest honor a school nutrition manager can earn. It recognizes those who have demonstrated dedication and ingenuity to improve their school meal programs.

“Dedicated cafeteria managers work tirelessly to implement projects and support initiatives to ensure students have access to healthy meals and to improve their dining experience,” association president Lori Shofroth said in a statement. “Deb exemplifies excellence in school food service, going above and beyond to enhance the East Allen County Schools community.”

Carper will be honored at the organization’s annual conference in November and at the School Nutrition Association’s national conference in Atlanta in July. She described the recognition as humbling.

“I love doing what I do, and I don’t do it to be awarded for it,” she said.

Carper will mark 35 years in school food services in September. She entered the field as a stay-at-home mom seeking to earn extra income for her family, she said, and worked her way up as people retired, becoming manager in 1995.

She credits her team for its willingness to try different offerings, such as Wednesday’s specialty bar that has a rotating menu of baked potatoes, sub sandwiches and tacos. They also add spices to food, like gravy, that arrives frozen or in packages, she said.

“I think out of the box to make it more desirable to the kids,” Carper said. ” . We take pride in our food here, we really do.”

Carper encourages other women to join a school kitchen, calling the role a “worthy job to step into.”

In her case, she said, she dedicated herself to the students.

“I could be that lunch lady for the next person who had hurt in their eyes,” Carper said.

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Source: The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette, http://bit.ly/2sdruIs

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Information from: The Journal Gazette, http://www.journalgazette.net

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