Part one in a two-part series
Don’t let all her awards and accolades fool you. With child nutrition director Brenda Watford, what you see is what you get. Authentic, soft-spoken and bubbling over with the brilliant tenacity of a highly-decorated, military commander, Watford is constantly tweaking and improving her battle strategy, with no time spent resting on her laurels.
Watford, who first gained national recognition in 2011 after being spotlighted by CBS evening news for Thomasville’s summer feeding program, takes no credit for herself. Most recently, she was awarded North Carolina’s Outstanding Director of the Year by the School Nutrition Association (SNA) and was presented with an impressive, glass sculpture at the 68th Annual National Conference held July 13 through 16 in Boston, Massachusetts. Upon her return, Watford placed the award on shelf in her office and went right back to work with a renewed sense of urgency and determination to continue her singular, steadfast mission: feed hungry children.
Enough to Go Around
“I am just so proud of the Thomasville school system and all my co-workers who share my love for the children and want to make a real difference in their lives,” said Watford. “Winning this award was a true blessing. But I could not have done it without my staff. They deserve the praise. I thank God for everyone who works so hard to make our Summer Food Service and other programs great.”
Watford, along with eight managers from her department, attended the SNA’s conference where they participated in educational sessions on new ways to improve school meals. Unique snack options and à la carte items were also showcased and sampled. The trip was entirely funded by monies Watford and a staff of 40 raised through catering jobs, cake sales, candle sales and raffles.
“The conference was a wonderful learning experience for us all,” Watford explained. “We were able to exchange ideas in breakout sessions and learn from other school nutrition workers from across the country. The best part is we get to bring all that knowledge right back here to Thomasville and put it to work.”
Food for Thought
And for Watford, working to feed the hungry never ends, but this year it will be a little bit easier.
Thanks in part to her efforts and with help from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Services, every TCS student will eat both breakfast and lunch for free as part of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) Community Eligibility Provision.
“I’ve had a lot of folks tell me, ‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch and feeding every kid in Thomasville for free is way too expensive’,” Watford said, in an exasperated voice. “This comment usually comes from somebody with a full belly. The program (NSLP) is not about giving someone something for free. It’s about feeding our future and making sure every child has the proper nutrition they need to think, grow and learn.”
A study by the National Institutes of Health found children who struggle with hunger on a regular basis are more prone to stomach aches, headaches, colds, ear infections and lack of concentration.
According to Watford, 91 percent of TCS students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. As a declining local economy, on-going unemployment and higher food costs continue to push many parents to the financial brink, Watford bristles when asked whether or not she feels like those parents who are financially able to pay for their child’s lunch should still have to regardless of the new program.
“Most of the families I know in Thomasville are struggling to get by these days,” she said. “If we can help them save the money they would spend on their child’s lunch and put it towards clothes, shoes or other necessities, we should. Times are hard enough without having to worry if you can afford to feed and clothe your child. This is America but hunger is an issue right here in our own backyard.”
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