Welcome to our series, #WHYoming.
We are highlighting people from around our communities and asking them a few questions. We want to learn a little about them and see why they chose this great state to raise their families, start their businesses, or simply to ask — Why Wyoming?
For this week’s #WHYoming, I had a chance to talk to the ladies who make up the Sweetwater County School District #2 Nutrition Services Department. The department has been working as hard as ever as they’ve been preparing meals each day for Green River’s children amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) school closures.
These ladies truly care and want each and every one of the community’s kids to have access to daily meals. Just two days into the school closures, the department had already served over 2,000 meals.
Read on, and enjoy getting to know the remarkable women who have made it their responsibility to make sure our community’s youth gets to eat.
What has work looked like since the announcement of the closures?
We found out that the schools were closing Sunday, March 15 after a special Board Meeting. After the meeting, I (Leah Kenison) called in all the Kitchen managers and we sat down and talked logistics. What we would serve, who would go to what building, times and what pick up looked like.
From there we decided that all items needed to be pre-packaged to keep them as safe as possible. For example, we will be having ham and cheese sandwiches. What we decided to do was to package the ham, cheese, and buns in separate bags. This was done in Central Kitchen, and there were nine of us total on hand just for the sandwiches.
The total amount pre-packaged on Tuesday was 1,000 individual slices of cheese, 3,000 slices of ham and 1,000 buns. We have all fruits and veggies pre-packaged as well. After this process, all of the items are transported to each site, by the van driver so the staff can put the sack lunches together in brown paper bags.
This was just lunch for Wednesday. Along with this is the pre-packaging of all grab and go breakfasts.
How many people on average do you serve each day?
When we are under the SFSP program (summer meal program) it is counted by meals. As of Tuesday, March 17 we had served 2,073 meals.
*Note: That was just day two of serving meals.
How many locations for pick up do you have and where are they?
We have three site locations: Monroe Elementary, Truman Elementary, and Washington Elementary. We have deliveries available in the Harrison Elementary area and also Jamestown.
Why is it so important to provide meals during these closures?
Food is a basic human need, we all need food. In Wyoming 1 in 6 children face food insecurities, so for our County, that’s roughly about 2,300 children who are not receiving the nutrition they need. For some kids, the only meals they receive are during school.
What is something unique about your department?
Leah Kenison, Nurition Services Director: We are the only people in the school who sees every single child in the building every single day. Most of us know all the kids on a first-name basis.
Heather Smothers, Warehouse Manager Central Kitchen: Our different personalities.
Charleen Libby, Kitchen Manager at GRHS: Coming together as a team especially with what’s going on.
Sara Hamilton, Kitchen Manager at Washington: Role to make such a positive impact on a whole bunch of kids!
Nancy Young, McKinnon Kitchen: We are different but we can work together!
Lori Lucas, Central Kitchen Manager: We all have different personalities but can pull it together and be a team!
Patricia Seyersdahl, Kitchen Manager at Monroe: We do our own wiring. LOL!
Brooke Birmingham, Administrative Assistant: the way we get to help kids in a different way, have you ever tried doing something on an empty stomach? It’s not fun, so I love that we help kids get through their days and make them be the best possible versions of themselves that they can be.
How did you all end up in Green River?
Some of us were raised here, some of us have moved here for work or family.
What do you appreciate most about our community?
People are very helpful and willing to lend a helping hand where it is needed, as well as so much support. We have gotten such amazing positive feedback from the community, we really feel loved and supported by everyone.
What are your some of your hobbies?
Heather: Painting, crocheting, being outdoors.
Charleen: Walking my dog and bowling.
Nancy: Reading, camping, and crafting.
Lori: Camping, Fishing and spending time with family.
Sara: Making things with my Cricut and cooking on my Traeger. Is cleaning your house a hobby?
Kim Nygarrd, Granger Kitchen: Painting.
Shannon Adams, Kitchen Manager Truman: Reading, camping, and spending time with family.
Misty Newmeyer, Kitchen Manager at Harrison: Quilting, reading, fishing.
Leah: Reading, crafting, binge-watching TV shows!
Patricia: Photography, being able to capture our beautiful county.
Brooke: Golfing, watching movies, concerts, my dog, hanging out with family and friends.
If you could give one brief piece of advice, what would it be?
Heather: Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Kim: Don’t eat yellow snow (It’s not a lemon snow cone!)
Sara; Pick your battles.
Nancy: Treat others with kindness.
Leah: Lead by example.
Lori: Be Kind.
Patricia: Don’t stick your tongue on frozen metal.
Brooke: Always find the good and humor in every single situation, it makes life a lot easier and enjoyable.
Where is your favorite place to hang out in Sweetwater County?
Heather: at home with family.
Charleen: Going to the movies almost every weekend.
Nancy: I like the mountains.
Lori: I love being home.
Sara: I love hanging out with my kids, camping and razor riding.
Kim: Being at the Gorge.
Shannon: No specific place.
Misty: Going to friends houses and playing bunco.
Leah: At home mostly, but I have been introduced to music bingo at the Fishbowl by some of my co-workers… wink wink, Heather, and I love it!
Brooke: Rolling Green Country Club in Summer, walking my dog by White Mountain, and anywhere I can hang out with my friends.
What would you sing at karaoke night?
Leah: I am not a fan of karaoke, however, if I had to I would choose anything, George Michael or Wham! He is my favorite, and I have so many great memories of his songs!
Heather: I don’t do it because I can’t sing.
Charleen: I won’t sing karaoke.
Lori: Maybe 80s songs!
Sara: Oh my god, you don’t want to hear me sing!
Kim: I Will Survive.
Shannon: Nobody wants to hear me sing.
Misty: Nope, no singing on stage!
Patricia: Not karaoke, but in my jeep I sing Bob Dylan songs!
Brooke: I have too many but my go-to is “I Try to Think About Elvis”, by Patty Loveless. My mom introduced me to all the queens of country when I was younger so that’s who I tend to go with.
What is one of your proudest accomplishments as a department?
Heather: Feeding the kiddos everyday!
Charleen: Being there for the kids and putting a smile on their faces!
Kim: Hard working and very caring.
Sara: WE ARE ONE TEAM!
Nancy: Providing kids with a good lunch they might not get otherwise.
Lori: Putting a smile on the kids’ faces.
Patricia: We work rain, snow, sleet, and headaches.
Leah: We have experienced a lot of change this year. It is my first year as a director, Brooke Birmingham is new to her assistant job, as well as Heather, Lori and Sara are all new to their manager positions. We have implemented a new point of sale program, we lost both of our mixers at once this year, we have added two amazing new vending machines at GRHS (Thank you to the Board for allowing us the approval to purchase these amazing machines), along with adding new menu items, and celebrating national food holidays each month district-wide. We have increased participation by 10 percent and now a school closure. Through it all, we have been there to lean on each other and help each other become better in our jobs, as well as feed the kids of our community every day, even in the summer months. We all love feeding the kids! We are better and stronger because of it! I am extremely proud of all “MY GIRLS”.
Brooke: I love that we have policies in place to help those in need and that I get to be a part of that every day. Knowing kids don’t have to go without food is the biggest accomplishment to me.
Why do you continue to live in Wyoming?
Heather: Because it’s peaceful and not overpopulated.
Charleen: Because my hubby works at the mine, we will be here until he retires.
Nancy: We bought a Ranch.
Lori: Because it’s my home. My husband and I both grew up here, and we both have good jobs.
Sara: Wyoming is my home. I love the wide-open spaces! It’s a beautiful state.
Kim: This is HOME.
Shannon: I love the small town way of life in Wyoming.
Misty: I love Wyoming’s fresh air and small community.
Patricia: Wyoming, my sweet home!
Leah: I have been here since I was 4-years-old. This is home to me, and I have so many fond memories here. Everywhere I look I see my childhood!
Brooke: I love the pace and the people, and how we have pride for where we live. It’s also the safest place to survive the zombie apocalypse since we are the least populated state.