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 Saluting SDCOE’s Food Service Employees

San Diego County Office of Education food service employees have been on the front lines serving and delivering food to students and community members throughout the pandemic.

They worked with other districts and organizations like the San Diego Food Bank to distribute millions of pounds of food and supplies to those in need. 

On School Lunch Hero Day, we can’t help but think of our food service team members as heroes, and want to recognize them for their dedicated efforts to get food and resources to our students and families who need them most. Meet our SDCOE team members and learn more about their experiences as food service representatives. 

Rosalba Contreras, food service field assistant

Years in school food service industry: 10 
Tell us briefly what you do in your role: I serve students lunch.
What do you enjoy most about your job? I enjoy the impact we have feeding students daily. 
Over the past year during this pandemic, how has serving students and the community impacted you? Distributing food to students and the community during the pandemic has made me see how vulnerable we are and see the need for people like us.

Lucero Diaz-Kennon, food service program assistant

Years in school food service industry: 10 
Tell us briefly what you do in your role: I serve as support and backup for Jerry Smith, my direct supervisor, and our food service team at Juvenile Court and Community Schools (JCCS), juggling my time between administrative work and being in the field.
What do you enjoy most about your job? It's hard to nail down what I enjoy most about my job because I feel really lucky to love what I do, and the students we serve.
Over the past year during this pandemic, how has serving students and the community impacted you? This year put all of us in food service in the frontlines of a worldwide shift, along with many other sectors, of course. We have seen first-hand the needs of entire communities that became vulnerable during that time, and the increased need of those who were already in need prior to the pandemic.

I could tell many stories, but perhaps the one that humbled me the most was the one of a gentleman who rolled in the parking lot of our food distribution in his wheelchair and ask me to please open the box and place all the items in the bag he carried. He shared with us that he had just opened the last can of tuna that morning and the food I was bagging for him would carry him until his next paycheck. We really do not know how incredibly blessed we are until we meet such contrasts. I feel grateful and honored to do what I do.

Maria Gonzalez-Baltazar, food service field assistant  

Years in School Food Service industry: 2
Tell us briefly what you do in your role: As a food service field assistant, I take part in making sure that students eat a full and balanced meal twice a day.
What do you enjoy most about your job? My favorite part about my job is interacting with the students and the rest of the food services team. I am grateful for being in a work environment that makes me feel welcome. 
Over the past year during this pandemic, how has serving students and the community impacted you? With the pandemic, the most difficult part was to not be in contact with other people. Yet, those working in food service still got to deliver meals to many families in the community. I am glad that we got to serve people in need during such a difficult time.  

Magda Lujano, food service field assistant 

Years in school food service industry: 10
Tell us briefly what you do in your role: I manage the north region food service for JCCS. I order food, making sure everything is in compliance with health department standards and the National School Lunches Program. In other words, I make sure that our JCCS students get the best food service they can have and offer them a positive and inviting attitude inviting. 
What do you enjoy most about your job? Interacting with students and the feeling of fulfilling a basic human necessity and right, which is to be fed and to not feel hungry while at school learning. For some students, this may be their only chance to get a complete nutritious meal during their day.
Over the past year during this pandemic, how has serving students and the community impacted you? It has been an eye-opener for me. During this pandemic, I've been closer to the families and community than before. Some students were struggling with food needs and for me to be able to provide the food for them has been incredible. I've been out feeding students and the community since day one as a first responder and I'm so happy to do it. 

Felipe Mendoza, food service field assistant 

Years in school food service industry: 25
Tell us briefly what you do in your role: I serve healthy meals to attending students. I distribute meal kits to families in the metro area.
What do you enjoy most about your job? The interaction with students and staff, and the impact that I have during these encounters.
Over the past year during this pandemic, how has serving students and the community impacted you? Serving the students and the community during the pandemic showed me how much we needed to come together to help one another during a difficult time. 

Aurora Perez, food service field assistant

Years in School Food Service Industry: 10
Tell us briefly what you do you do in your role: I serve breakfast, lunch, and supper; clean and sanitize after each serving; make sure the students get their meal in a safe manner, and support students if they need anything that I can help with.
What do you enjoy more about your job? Working with students
Over the past year during this pandemic, how has serving students and the community impacted you? What impacted me the most was seeing the needs of students and the community, such as food, help with virtual learning, and mental health.

Louis Perez-Dickson, food service field assistant 

Years in school food service industry: 5
Tell us briefly what you do in your role: Provide school meals at various SDCOE/JCCS sites
What do you enjoy most about your job? I enjoy interacting with students from the communities that I grew up in and currently am from.
Over the past year during this pandemic, how has serving students and the community impacted you? It is really shocking the level of food insecurity that there is in our country. Even before the pandemic we knew that it existed in our schools, and being able to help ease that struggle by a small amount by offering take-home meal kits from Feeding San Diego and national school lunch programs is nice.

Jerry Smith, food service program supervisor

Years in school food service industry: 30
Tell us briefly what you do in your role: I manage JCCS food service operations and supervise the best food service team in the county. Together we make sure all of our schools' students are fed nutritious meals for breakfast and lunch every day. I run federal and state programs operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the California Department of Education (CDE). Our schools qualify for Community Eligibility Provision, which allows our students to eat free of charge and receive the highest reimbursements available. I also act as the SDCOE food service advisor to other districts in support of their operations. 
What do you enjoy most about your job? I like the fact that we make a difference in the lives of our students and their families making sure that they are fed and ready to learn at school. JCCS offers wraparound services to students and food/nutrition is one part of that service.
Over the past year during this pandemic, how has serving students and the community impacted you? On March 13, 2020, the world literally stopped. With schools closing, the first crisis was how to continue to feed not only our students across the San Diego County, but the public as well. We learned that we were essential workers and we never stopped. All school food service departments across the county jumped into action and did what they do best: feed people. This was all new territory for everyone from the USDA and CDE, to each district food service operation. We adapted, changed policies and procedures, and met the challenge of this pandemic. We started to work with non-profits distributing emergency food boxes, served distance learners, in-person learners, created new partnerships, and worked from home. In many ways I think it brought us all closer and changed our perspectives.


Everyone in school food service is truly a school lunch hero! Thank you to you all!