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North Lenoir cafeteria manager best in state

Ada Hood had just finished doing what she does every school day – serving 600 lunches in about two hours at North Lenoir High School – when she sat down at the computer in her office “to do my paperwork and stuff.” An email caught her eye because of the subject line: “Congratulations from SNA!”

Opening it, she read this: “Congratulations! You have been selected as the 2019 Manager of the Year for the state of North Carolina.” The email was signed by Gay Anderson, president of the School Nutrition Association (SNA).

“I thought someone was playing tricks on me,” Hood said Tuesday. “I hadn’t heard anything about it so I was just thinking it was a mistake.”

No mistake. Ada Hood, a child nutrition staffer with LCPS since 2001 and cafeteria manager at North Lenoir since 2009, is the SNA’s choice as the top cafeteria manager in the state. She will be recognized as the statewide winner during a conference in Greensboro in June and in July she will be honored as North Carolina’s representative during the Red Carpet Awards Ceremony at SNA’s annual national conference in St. Louis, Mo.

A few days after receiving that email – and calling the SNA’s office in Virginia just to make sure she was reading it right – Hood says she’s still processing the honor.

“I’m still in awe,” she said. “It’s exciting, but it was unexpected. This is just something I come in and do every day.”

But she does it so well, according to Danelle Smith, the district’s child nutrition director, who nominated Hood for the award.

“She takes charge of her kitchen and makes sure everyone works together as a team,” Smith said. “She’s a great team leader.”

Smith points to a couple of initiatives this school year that Hood “pretty much jumped on to make it happen.”

The introduction of Second Chance Breakfast at North Lenoir – a later grab-and-go breakfast option that complements the traditional breakfast period before school – has doubled the number of students eating a first meal at school, but it also posed for Hood and her staff of eight the problem of how to serve about 300 students in 10 minutes.

“She worked it out with the principal and worked it out with the staff and, before we knew it, Second Chance Breakfast was happening,” Smith said.

It was pretty much the same story with the introduction of Smart Mouth Pizza, a new entrée that’s proved almost impossibly popular. When the choice first appeared on the menu earlier this year, North Lenoir’s cafeteria served more than 500 pizzas a day.

“The first two or three days were hectic, trying to keep up with demand,” Hood said. “We played with that about a week or so until we got so we could keep up.”

Smith’s nomination details Hood’s logistical skills, her attention to staff training and team-building, her involvement with SNA on the district level and her community outreach work through North Lenoir and the district’s SNA chapter. But after nearly two decades in child nutrition work at six schools in the district and ever-increasing levels of responsibility, Hood believes success boils down to having the right people and treating people right

“I have a wonderful staff. I couldn’t do it without them,” she said. “We’re just trying to make sure our children are fed and they love the food. They are all my babies. I always say they’re mine.”