Jennifer Mullin, Foodservice Manager, Washington Township Public Schools; Sewell, New Jersey
In the bustling Washington Township Public Schools, one remarkable woman has been at the forefront of nourishing thousands of young minds: Jennifer Mullin, the foodservice manager who has dedicated herself to ensuring the well-being of the district's students through wholesome meals. From her beginnings as a self-described lunch lady to her instrumental role during the COVID-19 pandemic, Jennifer's unwavering passion for food and nutrition has left an indelible mark on the community.
Despite the unexpected challenges brought by the pandemic, Jennifer viewed it as an opportunity to demonstrate her resilience and commitment to the community she serves. Throughout the crisis, she worked tirelessly to ensure students continued to receive nutritious meals. When some team members were unable to return to their positions, Jennifer embraced her newfound responsibilities, which included leading approximately 50 employees.
Her reputation as a strong, fair leader, along with more robust recruiting strategies, has allowed her to assemble a fully-staffed team for the coming school year. While employers across the country have struggled with staffing difficulties, Jennifer’s amazing personality and thoughtful approach helped her crack the code to creating an environment where people feel appreciated and needed.
The school district fully utilized her leadership acumen and problem-solving skills when they needed to open a preschool location — during the pandemic and without an on-sight kitchen. That scenario may sound like a non-starter to most, but to Jennifer, it was just another challenge and opportunity to shine.
To adapt to the different set of regulations that apply to preschools as opposed to standard K-12 settings, she worked closely with regulators to ensure they had the products and menus in place so the location could open on time and with plenty of options to keep the youngsters fed. Like every K-12 foodservice professional, Jennifer is no stranger to the many nutritional and serving regulations — which it seems are always subject to change. A unique shift she has had to adapt to was in 2022 when New Jersey banned the use of styrofoam containers in foodservice. Budgets and serving methods had to be adjusted, but Jennifer took it all in stride, saying “You just roll with the changes. Just go with it. We’re going to increase participation, give the kids what they like, and go from there!”
Whether at her preschool location or at the high school where they practice “unit lunches” (a model where students are allowed to eat anywhere on the campus, not just in the cafeteria), Jennifer has come to rely on individually wrapped items like those from General Mills. She has also found success with the flexibility of Yoplait® ParfaitPro® blenderless smoothies, Cheesy Pull-Aparts, Pillsbury™ Cinnamon Rolls, and many other solutions that lend themselves well to the high school's mobile lunch model.
Jennifer's leadership style is characterized by her commitment to supporting her team and empowering them with knowledge. She is a hands-on manager and is unafraid to step into any role when necessary. Her fair but strict approach fosters a positive and efficient work environment. Erica Rosenstiehl, one of Jennifer's coworkers, applauds her dedication and willingness to share resources and knowledge. Jennifer's rewarding career is enriched by the joy she creates from seeing the students daily and ensuring their participation in the school's meal programs.
It's a special moment when you get to meet someone who describes their occupation as their “dream job,” but that’s exactly how Jennifer talks about what she does. “I love food, I love nutrition, I love the kids, I love my employees,” she said.
Washington Township Public Schools has found an exceptional leader who leads by example. Jennifer’s dedication, resilience, and unwavering passion for her work serve as an inspiration to us all. We’re extremely fortunate she has found her dream job.
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