Capital nutrition supervisor awarded for work during pandemic

From left are Capital School District child nutrition staff members Mary Robinson, Nicole Boyle, Penny Westergren and James Trower. Mr. Trower was recognized in the “First Chance” Awards, which highlights school leaders, community members and more who support children’s access to meals during the pandemic. (Submitted photo)

DOVER — For James Trower, connecting students with the meals they need is just part of his work every day as a child nutrition supervisor for the Capital School District. What he considers everyday work, however, earned him a spot among 30 school leaders and community members to be recognized in the “First Chance” Awards by Delaware first lady Tracey Quillen Carney.

The award highlights those people supporting children through food service when school buildings closed in mid-March due to COVID-19.

“When the milk starts to get beat, then the cream comes to the top. So when things get tough, you see who are really the ones that are working out there,” Mr. Trower said. “It’s just that the situation calls for us to be out front being seen. But we do it every day, whether it’s from New Castle County, down to Sussex County.”

In March, when Gov. John Carney announced that schools would close for at least two weeks — which eventually became the rest of the academic year — districts across the state rallied to pull together feeding programs, while community members also pitched in to help.

Capital’s program went on the road, growing to about 70 stops along bus routes in Dover, Hartly and Marydel, said Mr. Trower. The program expanded to curbside service recently, so families unable to get to one of those stops can pick up meals between 3 and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday at most schools (except William Henry Middle School, Kent County Secondary ILC & Kent County Community School).

There were similar scenes across the state when schools closed in March: Caesar Rodney’s child nutrition supervisor Paul Rodgers was among the staff distributing food at several sites beginning the Tuesday after schools first closed. In April, Appoquinimink received aid from the Delaware National Guard to hand out meals in several neighborhoods. The Harry K Foundation, which seeks to raise money to address food insecurity in the state, helped support Smyrna’s food service. In May, Pandemic-EBT cards were issued through a USDA program to families with children eligible for free or reduced price meals to assist with food purchases.

And efforts have continued, with Indian River announcing eight sites where it will distribute food each Wednesday.

In August, the U.S. Department of Agriculture extended flexibilities through the remainder of 2020 that allows schools to continue serving free meals to all children during the fall.

While food service changed seemingly overnight for school nutrition officials — going from serving in cafeterias to packaging up meals to go to homes all around the area — Mr. Trower noted that “adapt and overcome” is a lesson he learned from the military.

“When it was placed before us, yes, it seemed to be a monumental task. But together with the district team, our superintendent who was then Dr. [Dan] Shelton, and the rest of the district, we put our heads together on how we were going to go about providing food for the students,” he said.

He estimated that between 700 and 900 meals are served a day. In the first two days of service back in March, the district handed out 1,859 meals.

Mr. Trower has worked in the district for 24 years; he has served as child nutrition supervisor for about half of that time. He even attended East Dover Elementary School as a fourth-grader after moving to Delaware from Virginia as a child.

His staff, who he described as being “in front lines” of COVID-19, have “come out just like champs,” he said.

He described educating children as one of the most important jobs — and nutrition fits into that.

“We’re part of their education system. We’re educating the presidents, the senators, the doctors, lawyers, and all of those workers — whether it be a computer programmer or someone that works for a city or state. We are in the process of training them to take over where we leave off,” he said. “The recognition is not always there, but that doesn’t stop us from doing our job because we’re dedicated to doing what we need to do, because we know what’s at stake.”

First Chance Award recipients are listed in full below:

• Appoquinimink School District – Janice Vander Decker

• Boys & Girls Club of Delaware – Tony Windsor

• Brandywine School District, School Nutrition – Colleen Carter

• Caesar Rodney School District – Paul Rodgers

• Cape Henlopen School District – Cheryle Lord-Gordon

• Capital School District – James Trower

• Christina School District – Andrea Solge

• City of Wilmington, Department of Youth and Families, Food Service Program – Victoria Fuentes-Cox

• Colonial School District – A. Paula Angelucci

• Community Education Building PS #5 LLC – Havena Hollins

• Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, Delaware Division of Social Services – Mondel Powell

• Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, Delaware Division of Social Services (Pandemic-EBT Customer Service Team) – Maggie Smith, Carolyn Kincaid, and Marcella Spady

• Delaware Department of Transportation – Mike Rivera, Dan Sturgeon, Warren Ziegler, Butch Kelley, and Laura Brown

• Delaware National Guard – Captain Kevin Caneco, Army 1st Lt. James Willey, and Sgt. 1st Class Brian Turner

• Ezion Fair Community Academy – Reverend Dr. Christopher Curry

• Family Outreach Multipurpose Community Center Inc. – Stephanie Dukes

• Food Bank of Delaware – Sanjay Malik

• Harry K Foundation – Harry Keswani

• Indian River School District – Clifton Toomey

• Lake Forest School District – Jennifer Montano

• Laurel School District – Julie Gibbons

• Milford School District – Sharon Forrest

• Polytech School District – Carol Arrington

• Red Clay Consolidated School District – Jessica Terranova RD, LDN

• Seaford School District – William Mengel

• Smyrna School District – Roger Holt

• Tarbiyah School – Dr. Amna Latif

• The Little People Child Development Center – Janice Palmer

• Woodbridge School District – Joann Joseph

• YMCA of Delaware – Courtney Hoy

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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