Members of the Tyson Foods company traveled to Dayton this week to hand out a surprise award.
They came to present the Tyson K-12 Hunger Hero Award to Dayton Elementary School kitchen manager Melody Lockhart.
Meredith Bailey, the Armstrong School District (ASD) director of food and nutrition services, noted Mrs. Lockhart had been chosen from 300 nominees for the honor, from the Northeast region of the United States in the Tyson contest, which includes 18 states.
“The Tyson K-12 Hunger Hero is someone who goes above and beyond to bring a smile to a child’s face while serving nutritious and delicious meals,” Mrs. Bailey said. “It’s a very prestigious award.”
Mrs. Lockhart, who has worked at the cafeteria for 34 years, was shocked when she received the award.
“I was speechless,” she said this week.
The presentation happened during the first lunch period of the day Tuesday.
Mrs. Lockhart’s employee and friend, Bobbie Aleprete, had nominated her for the honor by writing a letter about Mrs. Lockhart’s work with the elementary school’s students.
She wrote that Mrs. Lockhart helped two boys to overcome anxiety.
One, a kindergarten student, was so shy he wanted to run from the building every morning when he was dropped off at school, Ms. Aleprete wrote.
“The teachers had to all work together to keep an extra eye on him all day,” she wrote.
Over the holidays, the cafeteria staff participated in an “elf on a shelf” activity , and tried to move the elf to different parts of the cafeteria each day in fun ways for the students to find, Ms. Aleprete wrote in the letter.
The kids loved coming to lunch to look for the elf, especially the shy kindergartner.
One day, the kids were having an activity in the gym, and the boy ran up to Mrs. Lockhart, held her hand, and asked her about the elf, Ms. Alprete wrote.
“Since that day he has a special bond with Melody,” Ms. Aleprete said.
The boy now enters school each day to go to class, gets a breakfast from the breakfast cart and says hello to Mrs. Lockhart, Ms. Aleprete wrote. He is also opening up more at lunch.
A second shy boy with anxiety always packed his lunch, bringing a sandwich cut into fun shapes with cookie cutters, she wrote.
Melody brought him some fun new cookie cutters to try, Ms. Aleprete wrote.
“In caring she has developed a relationship with him and his parents,” she added.
Ms. Aleprete wrote that Mrs. Lockhart makes sure that her staff members are aware of all students with food allergies to keep them safe, and tries to help them overcome their struggles by offering them other healthy food options.
Mrs. Lockhart said the most satisfying part of her job is interacting with the children.
“Some of them tell you jokes every day, certain ones need a hug every day and a couple we work on sign language,” she said recently.
By working at the cafeteria, she could walk her children to the school where she worked, and was home on weekends, holidays and during the summer, Mrs. Lockhart added.
She said she loves to cook and bake and be in the kitchen.
Mrs. Lockhart and Ms. Aleprete both said Dayton Elementary School is a great place to work.
Mrs. Lockhart said her former food service director, LuAnn Fee, is the one who instilled in cafeteria workers that they never know if they are the only person to make a child smile today, or the only person to speak to them today, and that it is important to show children someone cares.
“The staff, the kids are all awesome — they make that building what it is,” Mrs. Lockhart said. “I am just honored to be chosen, and honored to work where I do with the people I do.”
Anne Cloonan is a staff reporter for the Leader Times. She can be reached at 724- 543-1303, ext. 1337, or [email protected].