MEET DONNA MARTIN
Like so many K-12 programs across the country, Burke County School District’s foodservice staff went the extra mile to ensure that kids, along with their families, stayed fed and fueled during COVID. Foodservice Director Donna Martin, who is a registered Dietitian Nutritionist and has been with the district for 21 years, spearheaded the heroic effort to get students the nutrition they need.
The Burke County District is vast and diverse, and offers limited retail food options. With five schools covering 836 square miles, transportation is critical for families and most students ride the bus. Every student eats free – for breakfast, lunch, snack and supper. Parents count on school-provided meals, and many lovingly call Donna’s program “their favorite restaurant in town.”
A nutritionist, educator and innovator
Donna loves every aspect of her job, but nutrition education is her #1 passion. “Studies show that you learn a lot better when you eat healthy food versus eating junk,” she said. “In addition to running a huge farm-to-table program that offers fresh fruits and vegetables, we send home flyers that reinforce the importance of nutrition and include easy prep tips for healthy meals.”
Donna pioneered Georgia’s first evening supper program for students, and her summer feeding program is legendary. Burke was the first district in Georgia to deliver summer meals via bus, covering up to 3,000 kids, for 13 years running. She even hires local students, including high school football players, to help package and transport the meals.
COVID brings out their best
In mid-March of 2020, Donna huddled with her staff and planned for the COVID shutdown, including how to pack and refrigerate foods, mobilize buses and make drop-offs. Amazingly, the students never missed a meal. Over time as some students returned, Donna organized Friday meal-box pickups for at-home learners. Families drive home with enough food for the whole week! “Opening the meal boxes was like Christmas morning for a lot of the kids,” she beamed.
Through it all, Donna embraced every challenge and did whatever was necessary to keep students fed, including:
- - Acquiring grants to pay for PPE, 600 coolers and even refrigerated trucks
- - Hitting the road to secure bread, chicken, apples (450 miles, round trip) and milk (75 miles) – in her program’s new cooler truck, after her vendors’ supplies were depleted
- - Partnering with new vendors and local establishments to add Asian, BBQ and other exciting offerings that kept their menu fresh and flavorful for families
Grab ‘n go saves the day
Donna marveled at how General Mills’ convenient, individually wrapped Pillsbury™ breakfasts were tailor-made for their COVID demands and students’ preferences, especially:
- - Mini Cinnis – “the kids’ favorite breakfast!”
- - Mini Pancakes
- - Waffles
- - French Toast Sticks
As difficult as the last two years have been, Donna is grateful that her staff got the recognition they deserve. “The country may have shut down,” she said, “but my staff never did. They became local heroes. They’re just so creative – they looked at every day as a new challenge with new possibilities, and they really have fun with it.”
With her ingenuity, determination and deep passion for childhood nutrition, she is a true Trayblazer for the students and families of Waynesboro, Georgia. Follow Donna and her team’s latest culinary accomplishments and adventures, below.
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