Every day is a chance to connect, even if it’s just with a smile //
FRANKLIN NH — Since well before the onset of the pandemic, there has been a simple flyer posted on the entrance door to the kitchen at Franklin Middle School.
Titled Franklin Food Service Food For Thought its message conveys this year’s Sandi Van Scoyoc Award recipient’s philosophy about the importance of the work she and her fourteen staff members do. It reads:
Every child matters. This may be their only meal today. You may be the only positive person in their day. We never know what a child’s home life is like. You can be the change they may need. Remember, everybody has a bad day, everybody has stress, even a child. Every day is a new chance to connect, to reach out, even if it’s just with a smile
A heroic response
Typically operating behind the scenes to prepare and serve school meals, Franklin School District Food Service Director Brenda Petelle and her team jumped immediately to the front lines when the pandemic forced the closure of Franklin’s schools in mid-March 2020.
As Daisy Blaisdell, volunteer board president of Franklin’s Twin Rivers Interfaith Food Pantry, said in her nomination, “Brenda worked tirelessly to hammer out a plan to get consistent food to children, and the plan continued through the summer months and on into this current school year. Her persistence, patience, and collaboration guided the District’s response — her compassion, sincerity, and genuine love of children gave her team the leadership, inspiration, and confidence to carry out such an overwhelming task.”
The Van Scoyoc award is given annually by the New Hampshire Children’s Health Foundation to honor its founding president’s commitment to improving the health of New Hampshire’s children. The award includes a $2,500 check from the Foundation to the honoree.
The vital importance of school meals
As Blaisdell outlined in her award nomination, Franklin has a very high percentage of students who meet the federal income threshold to be eligible for Free and Reduced Meals. As the person who handles all of the incoming applications for that program, Brenda Petelle is intimately aware of the vital importance of school meals to those children and to their families.
The closure of the schools in March 2020 created an immense hardship on the families who rely on that assistance, but Brenda, her staff, bus drivers, and volunteers prepared, packed, and delivered by school bus over 970 meals each day during the fully remote months.
Those numbers increased over the summer as additional sites, including day care centers and summer recreation programs were included. The food service team’s commitment to get food to children is a continuing effort — meals are prepared for the in-school classes, for distribution from a window at the Middle School, for bus delivery to students on their remote days, and for bus delivery to fully remote students. Brenda and her team begin work at 5 a.m. to make this happen.
Feed the need
For the past few years, Twin Rivers Food Pantry’s Feed the Need initiative has provided supplemental weekend food to the Franklin schools for distribution to food insecure children on Fridays by school personnel.
With the buildings closed and students switched to fully remote learning, Brenda and her team made it possible for this program to continue by taking its Feed the Need bags on the buses for delivery, and continues to make sure local children are fed on weekends by distributing bags via school bus or through the distribution window at the Middle School.
Petelle’s willingness to deliver by bus also enabled Twin Rivers to expand its program to provide weekend food to children throughout the summer.
As Twin River’s board president Daisy Blaisdell noted, the true impact of Brenda Petelle’s tireless efforts to make sure there were no interruptions in meals is hard to measure, but it is well known that food insecurity impacts children’s health, their ability to concentrate and learn, and their overall development. Food insecure families are likely to experience higher stress, domestic tension, and a host of compounding complications.
A true champion
As Blaisdell wrote in her nomination, “By championing a system to assure consistent meals for Franklin’s children, Brenda and her team have reduced food insecurity for many, many families and have enabled those families to stay connected with a team they know has their best interests at heart! Brenda and her staff continue to believe and live by the words on the flyer on their kitchen door, and it is making a big difference!”
As one of the leading private funders for children’s health in the state the New Hampshire Children’s Health Foundation is pleased to honor Brenda Petelle with its 2021 Sandi Van Scoyoc Award and will recognize her at its virtual event on May 26.