Some Heroes Wear Hairnets
April 9, 2020 - Cindy Snyder is on a mission. A long-time Guilford County Schools staff member, Snyder arrived at Northeast High six years ago to serve as cafeteria manager — and to do everything she could to make sure no student goes without a meal.
“Don’t mess with her kids,” principal Noel Keener says, with admiration and a giggle in her voice. “She is focused and determined. She cannot be swayed from her mission, and she will overcome any obstacle to carry it out.”
More than 75 percent of the Northeast High student body qualifies for free and reduced lunch, and many of them are bus riders with families who do not own a vehicle. “We have kids here that need us,” Snyder says. “We are going to treat our students right, have a smiling face for them every day, and serve healthy, low sodium, low fat food with fruits and vegetables.”
“No kid will go without a meal on my watch,” Snyder adds.
More than a meal, they receive respect. Snyder and her staff get to know each and every student. They learn every name. They ask about their math tests and their basketball games. As a result, students choose certain cafeteria lines to say ‘hello’ to certain servers.
This attentive and caring eye has led to breakthrough programming at the school that allows Snyder and her team to reach more students. Every program begins with an observation.
Early on, she quickly realized that only 20 percent of the students were showing up for breakfast. Snyder speculated that one reason might be students’ not wanting to “out” themselves. What if we fed every student, Snyder thought. And what if we deliver breakfast directly to the classrooms so that they don’t have to separate themselves out by making a special trip to the cafeteria?
Snyder went to her principal.
“She told me they will concentrate better if we make sure they have breakfast,” Keener says. “She put the processes in place so that the food delivery to classrooms was streamlined, seamless and safe. And she helped the school win $1,000 from No Kid Hungry to support the program.”
With the Breakfast in the Classroom program, consumption of that all-important first meal of the day went from 20 percent to more than 90 percent. Along with that came an increase in social interaction and bonding among the students.
No child goes hungry
In her second and third years, Snyder appealed for the school to become a 100 percent breakfast and lunch site, where every student could get two free meals a day. With the support of GCS, she made it happen.
“Her next idea was a dinner program. She pushes back, even with me,” Keener says, laughing again. “She has brought us programs we had not thought about because she is out there seeing what is needed and responding.”
Snyder’s request: to partner with the FDA to bring a hot meal program to students who stay after school for tutoring or athletics.
“Mrs. Keener is our cheerleader,” Snyder says. “Every year has presented a new challenge to solve, and she has stood by me and my team with our mission to feed the kids.”
Serving in the time of COVID-19
Now, with schools closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, heroes like Cindy Snyder are facing their greatest challenge. Thanks to her work over the years, Northeast High was chosen to be a food delivery site; any GCS student can receive meals there while schools are closed. Snyder and her team distribute between 300 and 380 meals a day.
“She rallied the troops that first week to make sure kids get fed throughout this time, and her team has stuck with her every step of the way,” Keener says.
“I have the ‘A Team’,” Snyder adds. “I couldn’t do what I do without them. This mission is from the heart. That’s all I can say. We can’t stop. There are a lot of needs out there right now. Even on a regular day, so many kids are hungry and don’t have food at home. It’s hard to imagine, but it’s true.
So no matter what, we’re going to be here for the kids.”