Child nutrition specialist Donna Henninger has been busy conjuring up new meal ideas in her head before taking them to the kitchen during the coronavirus pandemic, but it was her commitment to serving students healthy food long before then that recently earned the 2020 Pleasanton Unified School District Classified Employee of the Year Award.
Because Henninger is still working onsite to prepare meals for students while sheltering in place continues, her colleagues in the district's Child Nutrition Services Department were able to deliver the good news recently in person -- but with proper distancing.
"I was pretty surprised because I wasn't sure there would be something that would happen this year because of COVID," Henninger said. "I really was totally shocked when I walked in the main kitchen at Amador and there was a big sign congratulating me and flowers and a cake. I had no idea; I'd put it on the backburner and then a week later this happened."
With responsibilities that now include ordering and preparing food for the Amador Valley High student body and PUSD students in other grade levels every day -- even during the shelter-in-place order -- Henninger started her career with the district at Hearst Elementary 15 years ago. From there, she went to Walnut Grove, where she led production of the cafeteria menu, making sure that school meals were prepared, and then eventually moving to Amador.
For the past five years, she has helped oversee a food production team at Amador with Child Nutrition Services Coordinator Kelsey Perusse, who nominated Henninger for this year's award along with CNS Director Mary Fell. Though based at Amador, Henninger and her colleagues also help prepare food for elementary schools.
Henninger is in charge of cafeteria production, preparing food starting at 6 in the morning and wrapping up around 9:30.
Finding out that she won Classified Employee of the Year was a surprise for Henninger, who spoke highly of her colleagues to the Weekly. But the feedback she received from the district during the nomination process showed the appreciation was reciprocated.
"I know(the district) talked to some of my staff and basically they told me I'm easygoing, I'm willing to try things," Henninger said. "Kelsey will come up with a new menu and I'll say, 'yeah, let's try it. I have a great rapport with staff, they support me and I support them. Basically I love working for Child Nutrition, so I'm willing to go above and beyond to do whatever it takes to get a good meal out for the students."
Henninger was commended by the Board of Trustees during their May 7 meeting held online but will have to wait for an unknown amount of time before she receives her physical award. Even without a trophy in-hand, Henninger is proud of the honor and how far she's come.
"I started as a salad bar person and now I'm working at Amador as an Amador specialist," she said. "I'm pretty proud of myself for starting when my children were little, and now they're all grown up and I'm still here doing my thing."