By Sherrie Norris
On Wednesday, February 19, at the Friday Center in Chapel Hill, Watauga County’s own Melody Howell was among the 14 Child Hunger Heroes honored at the annual NC Child Hunger Leaders Conference.
It was earlier announced that Howell, School Nutrition Manager at Bethel Elementary School, had been chosen for the award, but the actual presentation last week made it a reality, as she and her peers from across the state were formally recognized.
Congressman David Price and North Carolina’s First Lady Kristin Cooper served as special presenters during the ceremony, which was emceed by Gerald Owens, WRAL-TV news anchor.
The NC Child Hunger Hero Awards serves as a new way of showing appreciation for the everyday heroes who make healthy meals possible for kids, according to a spokesperson for the host “No Kid Hungry NC” initiative.
Sponsored by UNC-Chapel Hill Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, the initiative works to end child hunger by increasing access to child nutrition programs, including school breakfast, free summer meals for kids, and At-Risk Afterschool Meals. It does this by providing grants, technical assistance, marketing tools and other resources to the schools and community organizations operating these nutrition programs. “Each Child Hunger Hero is working to make nutrition more accessible for kids in need.”
Howell and her peers were among the more than 100 individuals from around NC nominated for the awards, representing those who are combating child hunger in various ways.
The award winners include a high school student in Fayetteville who has been fighting child hunger since the third grade; a Durham mother who uses her front yard as a site for free summer meals for kids, a district nutrition director who made school breakfast and lunch available at no charge and dramatically increased participation in breakfast by making it part of the school day.
And, together, they are:
- Melody Howell, School Nutrition Manager, Bethel School, Watauga County
- Linda Beard, Teacher, East Bladen High School, Bladen County
- Jennifer Brown, Director of School Food Service, Swain County Schools, Swain County
- Deborah Davis Carpenter, Child Nutrition Executive Director, Hoke County Schools, Hoke County
- Ritchie Cornette, Principal, Mulberry Elementary School, Wilkes County
- Sil Ganzó, Executive Director, ourBRIDGE for KIDS, Mecklenberg County
- Tracey Holbert & Laura Valdez, Site Manager / Leasing Agent, Woodridge Apartments, Buncombe County
- Steve McCrossan, Executive Director, NourishNC, New Hanover County
- Avery Pickett, Student, Cape Fear High School, Cumberland County
- Carol Schmitz-Corken, Volunteer, Bread Riot, Rowan County
- Rosemary & Allen Stimpson, Summer Food Service Program Sponsors, Ezekiel AME Zion Church, Forsyth County
- Marcella Thompson, Summer Food Service Program Sponsors, The Mustard Seed, Durham County
Who Is Melody Howell?
During the presentation, Howell was introduced as one who brings excitement and enthusiasm to school meals, with special events like an annual Thanksgiving meal, celebrations of National School Breakfast Week and Child Nutrition Week, and by encouraging school staff and families to visit the cafeteria.
The program introduction was taken from the nomination sent in by Bethel School Principal, Brian Bettis, and includes the following: “She has also championed programs like Second Chance and Universal-Free breakfast. All of this has contributed to increased participation in school meals. Melody has worked to create an environment in our cafeteria in which all students feel a part of our school family, know they are loved, and know that their stomachs and hearts will be well fed. I can’t decide who is loved more — Mrs. Howell by our students, or our students by Mrs. Howell.”
Additionally, Bettis shared with High Country Press after the ceremony, “I am thrilled that Mrs. Howell was recognized for the great work that she does. She has no idea the impact that she has on our students, families and community. The staff at Bethel School is committed to making sure the needs of our students are met each day, and Mrs. Howell is a perfect example of this.”
Monica Bolick, Director of School Nutrition for Watauga County Schools, also shared: “It is a pleasure to have Melody on the School Nutrition team for Watauga County Schools. She is dedicated to the students at Bethel School and to the community. Melody goes above and beyond each day to encourage the students to eat healthy meals in the school cafeteria. She truly has a heart for the students and only has their best interest in mind.”
On Wednesday, Howell shared with High Country Press: “I am both humbled and honored to be nominated and receive this award. It is truly my passion to feed and love children. I love my job and want to make a difference in the lives of these children by serving them a meal, giving them a hug,words of encouragement, a smile or whatever else I can to make their lives better.”
She added, “It is such a privilege to work at Bethel School with the greatest students, most supportive principal (Brian Bettis) , staff, parents and community members who support me every step of the way. I have exceptional Child Nutrition employees who work with me each day at Bethel. Amy Ulery and Lisa Harmon are my co-workers in the cafeteria. We work as a team, we love our students and want to meet their nutritional and hunger needs and make sure they know that they are loved and important to us.I could not have accomplished this award without the dedication, loyalty, team work, and support from Amy and Lisa.”
Working Together to Combat Hunger
Almost 60% of the nearly 1.5 million public school students in North Carolina qualify for free or reduced-price meals. Many of those students rely on child nutrition programs at school or elsewhere for at least some of their daily nutrition.
“There are many unsung heroes in our state working to ensure that children have the nutrition they need,” said Lou Anne Crumpler, State Director of No Kid Hungry NC. “One of the best parts of our work is getting to celebrate these nutrition professionals, educators, volunteers and others whose work often goes under-appreciated.”
This most recent event was the ninth annual NC Child Hunger Leaders Conference, a day of celebration and inspiration for professionals, volunteers and advocates working to feed more kids in our state. The NC Child Hunger Hero Awards represent a new addition to the conference.
No Kid Hungry NC hosted the event with conference sponsors Share Our Strength, Food Bank of Central & Eastern NC, The Dairy Alliance, and Barbara and Jim Goodmon. Conference partners include The North Carolina Institute for Public Health, Carolina Public Press, and Capital Broadcasting Company, Inc./WRAL-TV.
About No Kid Hungry North Carolina
No Kid Hungry North Carolina is a public-private coalition working to end childhood hunger. The partnership between Share Our Strength and UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention is ending childhood hunger in North Carolina by ensuring kids get the food they need by increasing access to federal child nutrition programs for school breakfast, afterschool meals, and summer meals. No Kid Hungry North Carolina was founded in 2011 in partnership with state leaders. In 2014, it became an initiative of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. Learn more at NoKidHungryNC.org.