Billerica’s April Laskey
BILLERICA -- An intimidating football offensive lineman towers over April Laskey in the cafeteria.
The director of school nutrition for Billerica Public Schools notices he avoids the fruits and vegetables while in line.
″ ‘Come back. You need more fruits and veggies on there, or I’m telling coach,’ ” Laskey says she’ll tell the football player.
“We can do that because we know the students well,” she adds. “We know them by name.”
For more than a decade, Laskey has served healthy meals to students, along with trying to meet students’ needs beyond the cafeteria.
As a result, the director of school nutrition has been named a 2018 School Nutrition Hero by School Nutrition Foundation. The nonprofit selected five professionals across the country for this honor.
“I couldn’t do what I’m doing without my team,” Laskey said Thursday. “It’s not about me.”
“This (honor) is recognition that I have a really great team,” she added.
Laskey, 46, who lives in Billerica, was nominated by her peers for the award.
She joined the school system 12 years ago after working for Sodexo, the food service management company.
In addition to serving healthy meals, her team partnered with the Greater Boston Food Bank to create the Billerica Public Schools Food Market for families with limited access to nutritious foods. More than 400 families visit monthly to receive 30 to 50 pounds of fresh produce and frozen, shelf-stable food.
“The food market has grown so much, and has brought so much attention to what we’re doing here,” Laskey said. “We’ve partnered with several groups, and companies help us with donations and volunteers. It’s been great.”
Dina Wiroll, food service director at Assabet Valley Regional Technical School District, said that Laskey seamlessly coordinates the market -- the families coming through, volunteers handing out food, and many student volunteers serving as “runners” for those needing extra help.
“April is always the first to host community events for the first time and she doesn’t blink an eye when it is time to step up and get things done,” Wiroll said in a statement. “When I see what April is doing, it inspires me to do more for my community and school district.”
Laskey has also introduced programs to help increase the healthy options in the district’s cafeterias. She started a “Taste it Thursday” program, where new menu items are introduced and taste-tested with students.
She has organized Harvest of the Month lessons and samples for elementary students, Chopped Challenge contests for middle and high school students, and barbeques for elementary Back-to-School night, incoming high-school freshmen and their families.
“April brings a level of enthusiasm and passion to her job unmatched by many,” School Nutrition Association CEO Patricia Montague said in a statement. “She has implemented exciting programs that not only enhance a student’s experience in the cafeteria, but ensure that they have access to healthy foods even when they leave school for the day.”
In addition to Laskey, School Nutrition Foundation has recognized 2018 School Nutrition Heroes from Memphis, Tennessee; New Castle, Delaware; Willamina, Oregon; and Hammond, Indiana.
The Heroes will be recognized at the foundation’s Celebration of School Nutrition Heroes during School Nutrition Association’s 46th Legislative Action Conference in Washington, D.C., in March. The annual event is the foundation’s signature and sole fundraising event to support education, research and scholarships for school nutrition professionals.
The foundation focuses on providing the resources that educate and empower School Nutrition Association members to provide high-quality, low-cost meals to students across the nation.
“We get to feed kids every day,” Laskey said. “To become part of their day has been the best part of all this.
“I get to be part of the school day that is the most fun,” she added. “I love that.”
Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter @rsobeyLSun.