Auburn schools nutrition director named employee of the year

Janis Campbell-Aikens, director of child nutrition at Auburn Public Schools, was recently named employee of the year by the Puget Sound Educational Service District. This means Campbell-Aikens will be eligible for the Washington Educator of the Year award.

“I’m very humbled to receive this recognition, but I also want to say that the original award was for the entire child nutrition department in recognition of the work they’ve done all through the pandemic,” Campbell-Aikens said. “Really it’s in honor of the entire staff.”

Once the award went on to the regional level, it had to be narrowed down to a single employee. Campbell-Aikens was chosen because she’s the director, she said.

Campbell-Aikens has been the director of child nutrition at the school district for about two and a half years. When the pandemic caused school closures, she had been the director for about a year.

Back in 2020, schools closed due to the pandemic on a Friday, and the following Monday, child nutrition staff had bagged lunches and breakfasts ready to go, Campbell-Aikens said. The child nutrition staff members haven’t stopped preparing grab-and-go meals since schools first closed down, Campbell-Aikens said.

“We were able to turn the program around really quickly, partly because the staff is very good at the summer food service program, so we had that foundation to build on,” Campbell-Aikens said.

The staff have been serving meals throughout the year with few days off. They served meals during winter and spring breaks and are continuing throughout the summer, Campbell-Aikens said.

In addition to serving meals at the schools, child nutrition staff have also been serving meals via vans that drive along routes and stop at specific locations throughout the city, Campbell-Aikens said.

“They have done an amazing job. They have served at this point over 2 million grab-and-go meals since we started,” Campbell-Aikens said. “The dedication of my staff to this community and to the kids, I think that’s what I’m most proud of.”

Things will start to return to normal when kids return to in-person school in fall. The USDA issued a waiver so all school-provided meals in Auburn Public Schools will be free during the next school year, Campbell-Aikens said.

Campbell-Aikens and her staff are looking forward to being able to serve meals to students in-person this coming fall.

“We work hard to provide really healthy meals and we’re working hard to provide meals that are culturally appropriate for our kids,” Campbell-Aikens said. “We just want to continue working at that and get better and better at that and at providing the healthiest, freshest, tastiest food that we can for the kids of Auburn.”