KINSTON, N.C. (WNCT)- The best child nutrition director for a school district in North Carolina and the best child nutrition assistant for a school in North Carolina work – and work tirelessly – for Lenoir County Public Schools.

Danelle Smith, LCPS Child Nutrition director since 2016, has been named the North Carolina School Nutrition Association Director of the Year; and Norma Smith, school nutrition assistant at Moss Hill Elementary School, is the North Carolina School Nutrition Association Assistant of the Year.

Both award winners will be honored this summer at the School Nutrition Association state conference in Greensboro. As state winners, both are candidates for the SNA’s national awards.

“Danelle Smith has led with vision and with grace and with empathy and she’s really wanted Child Nutrition to be a part of all that we do,” Superintendent Brent Williams said.

As a department director, Smith and her Central Services staff of three direct and supervise about 85 child nutrition workers at 17 school sites. According to the superintendent, she has raised the level of professionalism among her staff through an on-going program of food safety training, improved the equipment they use, allocated child nutrition funds to upgrade and enhance school cafeterias and invested in the well-being of her staff.

“Our goal is to feed every child every day a great breakfast and lunch, but one of my goals is for our employees to be happy at work,” Smith said. “I’ve always insisted on having a good work environment.”

Her wide-ranging experience in school nutrition likely contributes to her understanding of what employees at every level of the operation need.

She began her career in 2002 as a cashier in a cafeteria in Pitt County. She came to LCPS after working for five years as a child nutrition supervisor with Pitt County Schools, where she had oversight over 11 school cafeteria operations. Previously she worked as an assistant manager at a middle and elementary school cafeteria and as cafeteria manager at an elementary school.

Two days after the coronavirus pandemic closed North Carolina’s public schools in March 2020, she launched a program of free meal pick-up and delivery for LCPS families. Over the course of the shutdown, her staff assembled and distributed more than 750,000 meals.

During Smith’s time with LCPS, seven members of the Child Nutrition Department, herself included, have won statewide or U.S. Southeast region “best employee” awards from SNA. Smith’s staff nominated her for this year’s state SNA award.

Danelle Smith nominated Norma Smith, the assistant manager at the Moss Hill cafeteria, for the SNA’s school nutrition assistant award. “She loves the work she does but more importantly she loves taking care of her students when it comes to their needs, ensuring they are in a positive cafeteria,” Danelle Smith said of her employee.

“She’s always looking for opportunities to grow. She is like a sponge, wanting to learn more and more.”

When Child Nutrition had a temporary opening for a school cafeteria manager, Norma Smith raised her hand. “I wanted to grow,” she said. “I wanted to advance.”

A member of the Child Nutrition staff since April 2017, Norma Smith worked in the cafeterias as Pink Hill and Northeast elementary schools before coming to Moss Hill.

The SNA recognition took her by surprise. “I was really shocked. I wasn’t expecting this at all,” she said.  “I knew I had worked hard and had really gotten out of my comfort zone, but I was really not expecting this.”