July 18, 2019
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia Department of Education and Cabell County Schools joined representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today to recognize Rhonda McCoy with the Summer Food Champion Award. McCoy received the national recognition as a result of her work to help feed children in the Mountain State.
McCoy has bachelor’s degree in Dietetics with a minor in Chemistry, as well as a master’s degree in Home Economics. She was selected as Cabell County Schools’ Food Service Director in August 2005 after serving students in Lincoln County since 1980. As soon as she was in place, Ms. McCoy began making incremental changes to the county’s menus, incorporating more nutritious choices and items prepared from scratch. She analyzed child diabetes rates, obesity rates and other information that had been collected by local health organizations and created targeted menus for each individual school focused on improving that school’s student outcomes. To improve breakfast participation rates, Ms. McCoy, with county and school-based support, successfully piloted then launched a county-wide “Breakfast after First” initiative. This program, which was quickly adopted by other counties statewide, allows late-arriving students to eat breakfast in the classroom as well as in the cafeteria. This, in addition to “Grab and Go” carts placed around larger school buildings, has greatly increased student access to healthy school meals.
When faced with the challenge of being featured on an international television reality show, Ms. McCoy boldly utilized the potentially negative platform as her opportunity to accelerate the county’s healthy meal efforts, increasing the number of items the county prepared from scratch from approximately 50 percent to 80 percent, and requiring more fresh ingredients from food suppliers. When the celebrity chef’s own, from-scratch recipes did not meet state standards, Ms. McCoy worked closely with her cooks to develop their own recipes that were nutritious, made from scratch, and have been widely accepted by students. The recipes have been so popular that the West Virginia Department of Education’s Office of Child Nutrition has asked Cabell’s Cooks to yearly staff development for their peers statewide on their preparation and kitchen processes.
For many children, school meals are often the main source of nutrition. When school is out, many sadly go without these important building blocks. Ms. McCoy has been a champion for the Cabell County Schools Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). With USDA support, Ms. McCoy hires an administrator, cooks, student helpers and delivery drivers to prepare and deliver both hot meals and nutritious bagged lunches to distribution sites county-wide. These sites include parks, housing developments, schools, libraries, churches, community centers, daycare centers, private residences and other places children might gather. This year, the county has exceed 30,000 meals served at more than 40 sites across the county. Next year, there are plans to expand this program even further with the addition of a “Food Mobile,” a retired school bus repurposed for delivering meals directly into the heart of local communities and at special events.
“I commend Ms. McCoy for her selfless work on behalf of the students in Cabell County,” said West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Dr. Steven Paine. “Our summer feeding programs are successful because of the countless hours of service and dedication from individuals across the state like Ms. McCoy and I congratulate her on receiving this well-deserved honor.”
The USDA’s Summer Champion Awards are presented to food service program sponsors who demonstrate innovation and hard work to make sure children receive nutritious meals.
“Ms. McCoy has been essential to Cabell County Schools’ Food Service Program transformation,” says Ryan Saxe, Superintendent of Cabell County Schools. “She is a true force for good in our county. She is tireless in her work and actively seeks new opportunities to see that children are getting the nutrition they need to grow into healthy, productive adults. She is also a talented administrator, building positive, trusting relationships with her Food Service Department staff, our school administrators, Board members, local farmers and vendors. She has been a blessing to this county and to thousands of students and their families who might otherwise go hungry.”
Cabell County also celebrated serving its 30,000th meal as part of the SFSP. The SFSP is a federally-funded program that ensures children (18-years and younger) in lower-income areas continue to receive free, nutritious meals during the summer when they do not have access to the School Breakfast Program or National School Lunch Program. The SFSP reimburses providers who serve free, healthy meals to children in low-income areas during the summer months when school is not in session.