During her nine years as supervisor of Food Services for Carroll County Public Schools, Karen Sarno has expanded services and found ways to get more kids access to food when they need it most.
This week, she was named the 2019-2020 Director of the Year, an award presented by the Maryland School Nutrition Association.
Sarno said she was “flattered and honored” to receive the award, she didn’t want the attention to fall squarely on her. She hoped she could bring recognition to the food service programs across the state and how they have risen to the challenges of the pandemic. Their work “has moved beyond the normal mission of school food service and really becoming overall community feeding,” she said.
As a leader, she wants the organization to be an “inverted pyramid,” where her job is to support the staff working at the front in the schools and the kitchens.
According to a news release from CCPS, the nomination process for the award took place before the COVID-19 school closures began in March, but “the MdSNA recognizes the widespread efforts of school nutrition professionals across the state, working on the frontlines to ensure needy students have access to healthy meals during the pandemic."
For the summer months, Sarno and Food Services staff across the county hope to spread the message that their services are still available even though the academic year is over. The county’s 12 distribution sites are open Monday, Wednesday and Friday for students to pick up breakfast and lunch for two days on Monday and Wednesday and three days on Friday.
This year, the pandemic and subsequent unemployment has “impacted households financially more than a normal summer,” Sarno said.
An average day sees 1,700 to 1,900 kids come through meal pickup. Because of waivers, this service is open to all under 18, whether they are a CCPS student or not. This adds up to approximately 23,000 to 26,000 meals a week.
In addition, CCPS Food Services provides the meals for the summer programming offered by the Boys & Girls Club of Westminster. This is one example of the way that Sarno and crew partner with several community groups and organizations to provide meals int eh summer months, ensuring that children continue to receive nutritious meals when school is out.
On top of the summer programs, Sarno’s work this year means planning for the fall semester — in whatever form that might take.
CCPS Central Office said a draft plan for reopening is expected to be ready by July 15. For many departments, that means making plans for various scenarios without knowing quite which one will be in place come September and the first day of school.
When choosing Sarno for the Director of the Year award, the selectors looked at program enhancement, staff development, school involvement, Maryland School Nutrition Association involvement, and community outreach.
They recognized the special things she does to engage the community liked themed days in the lunchrooms and that might include special giveaways or a menu item like a doughnut on Fastnacht Day.
She encourages Food Services staff members to earn their professional certification and devotes a portion of each staff meeting to helping them prepare for the process. She also arranged for lessons in functional Spanish so staff can better communicate with Spanish-speaking students.
She plans activities for students each year through the Farm to School Program. Students might taste test local fruit or get a visit from a Carroll County farmer to learn how their food is produced. Local produce also is featured on the daily lunch menu, according to the release.
She is a former president and current member of the Maryland School Nutrition Association.