Interviewee: Lynda Snow

Interviewer: Linda Godfrey

Date: April 23, 2010

Location: Hoover, Alabama

Description: Lynda Snow is a native Alabamian and has worked in school nutrition for thirty-five years in Birmingham and Bessemer, Alabama. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Alabama A&M University. She is currently Child Nutrition Director for Bessemer City Schools.

Linda Godfrey: This is Friday, April 23, 2010, and we are at the Hoover City Board of Education, and I’m going to be talking with Lynda Snow about her experience in child nutrition and all the contributions she’s made to child nutrition programs. Do you want to tell us a little bit about yourself, where you grew up?

Lynda Snow: Well, I’m a country girl. I was born in Mobile, Alabama, and reared in Monroe County; right by the river is where I grew up, right down in Monroe County, in what is known as the Lower Peachtree Packers Bend area. My mother was a school teacher; my father was a farmer, so I have a love for the farm. When we talk about Farm to School it’s close to my heart.

LG: What’s your earliest recollection of a child nutrition program?

LS: When I was in grade school there was a cafeteria manager there named Mrs. Carter, and she could cook some of the best teacakes in the whole world. I always wanted to go in and get them. I think that lunch was about 45-65 cents at that time, and my mother would of course pay for my lunch because there was no free lunch back then. We would do anything to go in and get Mrs. Carter to let us sample those teacakes before lunch. I just loved going in and seeing Mrs. Carter back there in that cafeteria working and making those cookies, scooping up those cookies. And you know, it was all from scratch back then.

LG: A lot of pride.

LS: Lots of pride.

LG: OK, other than the teacakes, what was your favorite menu?

LS: Well, I’ve been thinking about that; white beans and slaw, I was very big on that, eating that back then. And another thing came to me that I really did enjoy was that government beef in the can, and they would prepare that and put it over the rice and we would have that. I just thought that was special. The chicken and all of those other things, they could keep that, but that beef in the can, I guess because I didn’t have that at home, and so to me it was just delicious, whatever those ladies put in it during that time, and the love was there.

LG: That makes a difference doesn’t it?

LS: It makes a difference; it was delicious.

LG: How did you become involved in child nutrition?

LS: My husband was in the military and we came back after his Vietnam tour to Birmingham, which is his home. And during that time the Birmingham City Schools had just gone through a review. A Mr. Knuckles from USDA had come to review the school district, and my father-in-law was a principal in the school district, and he told me that they were looking for someone to work with the Director, then Supervisor. Her name was Lula J. Childress, there in Birmingham. He said, “Go in and talk with her.” I said, “I don’t know anything about any cafeterias”, because I was a schoolteacher in Home Economics, and I had gotten hired to go teach in the school district. So I did at Dad’s insistence, I went in to talk with Ms. Childress; just fell in love with her.

LG: How could you not?

LS: So from that point, that November, I was hired by the Board. That was 1976. And I just began to love it as I worked I child nutrition, meeting all the interesting people and touching the lives of the children. You know, I realized that once I got in child nutrition this was something where I could really do something with children, all of the children in schools. I really love it and here I am still today.

LG: It got in your blood didn’t it?

LS: It did.

LG: Tell us about your educational background. You said that you were a Home Ec major. Where did you go to school and did that help prepare you for what you’re doing now?

LS: I really think it did. I attended undergraduate school at Alabama A&M University, which is agricultural-based HBCU [Historically Black College or University]. There we had so many people that nurtured us toward getting a diverse type of education until I feel like being in Early Childhood Ed there, Home Economics there, Chemistry, all of those things. I had a minor in Chemistry, a minor in Early Childhood Ed, so all of that coupled with the Home Economics degree that I received there, helped me to advance with this career. And later I did go to the University of Alabama, which was really my first choice to go anyway, but I ended up going to Huntsville instead. So I went to the University of Alabama and started on my graduate degree, but along came family so I kind of pushed that aside. There I met though Dr. Stits, Kathleen Stits, and she propelled me so much there, and also met Perry Fulton there. He was a student. We happened to have taken some classes together there at the University of Alabama. After that though, I did return back to Alabama A&M and got my graduate degree from there. So yes, it did help to prepare me for this.

LG: Was there someone, you mentioned Dr. Stit, or Mrs. Childress, was there a mentor along the way, or have you had more than one mentor that helped you out and encouraged you?

LS: Oh yes. You of course have been very encouraging and inspirational to me Linda.

LG: Well thank you.

LS: – along the way. Your leadership that you have provided throughout the state in the time I have known you. Mrs. Childress was I think the base of my mentors, preparing me for this. I just kind of watched how she related to the child nutrition portion of the school district. Her love and her passion for it just spilled over to me. And there were so many wonderful managers and food service employees that I worked with there. Dorothy Caldwell was one of those persons that I had a chance to have as a mentor for a short time, because I was on that five-year strategic planning group early in my career, and I began to watch her and see some of the things that she was just kind of propelling for child nutrition, and I thought ‘Yes, I want to do like that.’ People like that have really just helped me along the way.

LG: What types of positions have you held in child nutrition? You said you worked with the Birmingham City Schools, and what did you do there?

LS: I was an Area Specialist. The school district was very large. They had about 112 schools during that time, and the school district was just so large they divided it into sections and each of us was assigned a section of schools to monitor. We would go out each day and monitor those schools for all of the regulations, make sure that they were within regulations there. After doing that I was promoted to Assistant Director while Mrs. Childress was still there, and stayed there until I moved to Bessemer. I am of course in Bessemer now. In my current position I am the Child Nutrition Director, where I came in after you left there. I say it was a blessing for me because I feel like I’ve been able to contribute to the community in which I live.

LG: Do you want to tell us a little bit about the Bessemer School System, the enrollment and number of schools, that type thing?

LS: Certainly. There are seven schools in Bessemer. We have approximately 4,550 students in our school district. We do have an alternative program where we do satelliting too. We have Even Start. We service JCCEO in that area. It is an area that is about ninety percent free and reduced, but it is a progressive area, because we are right on the edge of the county there with McCullough, we have all the growth, and Tuscaloosa, so I always say we lie right on the cutting edge.

LG: That’s a good observation.

LS: Yes. There in Bessemer I have seen lots of changes that have taken place there in the school district. It is a very diverse area; the population is very blended there.

LG: OK. I want to ask you about a couple of things that I’ve noticed. You opened up a new high school this year.

LS: Yes.

LG: Do you want to tell us anything about that? That was a monumental undertaking.

LS: Yes it was -very monumental; I consider well past due for the Bessemer area, but it was a welcome challenge that was undertaken, and it just helped the pride of the community to be lifted, to have that new school sitting there right off of the interstate. It’s a very nice facility, and with the one percent sales tax dollars there will be another school that will be built. Hard they are working on now, doing some renovations with it. We have a school, Jonesboro Elementary, as you know, and it’s very overcrowded. We have close to 1,000 students there at Jonesboro, and it is ill-equipped for 1,000 children, so we look forward to expanding out and dispersing those children where we can better serve them.

LG: OK. And you mentioned when you came in that you had been to a state training session this week. Do you want to talk about that a little bit, about what you do in the summer, when nobody else works? That’s what people think.

LS: That’s what people think, that we have time to stop, but it never stops in school nutrition, never stops. I think our summer is equally or more important than our regular school year. We have our Seamless Summer food program, and this is where we prepare meals within our schools for our extended year programs and academic enrichment summer schools. Just any student, and child eighteen years or younger can come in and have access to a nutritious meal that they would not normally get because schools are closed during that time. So we try never to let there be any downtime that children do not have access to meals. We also have our regular Summer Food program where we serve as the vendor to the Bessemer Housing Authority, and this year we have signed up so far forty-seven sites. Last year we vended about 74,000 meals out through the western Jefferson County area. It’s not just restricted to Bessemer, but we service that entire western Jefferson County area with meals for daycare, churches, other school districts that are not having the summer meal programs. I really, really enjoy that because this is the time that we get a chance to employ students. I have lots of students that come in and work with us during the year, so they become mine directly at that point, and they just look forward to it. As a matter of fact I have a stack of applications for Human Resources to look through now where the students have shown interest and want to come on board and work with us during the summer. So no, there’s no downtime in child nutrition.

LG: So not only are you providing certainly a need for children, because they wouldn’t get food, many of them in the summertime, or nutritious food, but you’re providing employment for the community. Is that the way that you look at that program?

LS: Absolutely. I do, absolutely do, yes. It’s very vital for the area, and especially now during these dim economic times, it really is.

LG: Have you seen an increase in the number of free and reduced in the last couple of years? I know that most school districts nationwide have.

LS: Our district has always been a high free and reduced school district, so our numbers haven’t increased drastically, but by a small percentage. I have seen some of those that have never participated before come in to participate, yes, due to unemployment and other family crises.

LG: OK. You’ve worked in the state of Alabama for quite some time now. Have you seen a difference in what is done at the state department level, or changes that have occurred with our state department? How is your relationship with the State Department of Education Child Nutrition Program?

LS: I’m fortunate to have a good working relationship with the state department, and I would just like to be sure to put this in. Our state department is one, I think, that is always on the cutting edge for training and ensuring that the state of Alabama is ahead of requirements. When requirements come to us, mandates come to us, we have already begun the process here in the state of Alabama, because we are encouraged to do so by the state department child nutrition personnel. Our state director and state administrators and those people working with them are always there to lend us great technical assistance. They provide continuous workshops and training for us. Anytime that you need them they are willing to come into your school district to lend you technical assistance, so I feel we have a very strong, supportive state department.

LG: So you don’t see that as an adversary role or anything like that?

LS: Oh, by no means; I really don’t.

LG: Alabama is very fortunate to have that type of relationship between the local directors and the state department. That’s what I hear over and over and that’s what I experienced too. What’s a typical day? What would you say a typical day would be in child nutrition?

LS: Oh gosh, there are no typical days.

LG: I’ve heard that before.

LS: I don’t think we have any typical days in child nutrition. We just have days that have challenges to conquer and opportunities to feel [grounded] by, but I don’t think we have a typical day. What would that mean with child nutrition? Because we begin early – almost all of our schools in the state of Alabama – I am very proud to say Birmingham and Bessemer were two of the first school districts to start Breakfast Programs, and we have breakfast in all of our schools. That has been almost just a given for us. As I look as the rest of the nation coming on board with that I think ‘Well, we’re already there. We’ve been there a long time realizing that breakfast is vital for our students.’ So in terms of a typical day I guess typical would be making sure that we have all the children fed in that thirty to thirty-five minutes for breakfast and moved to their classrooms, and all the equipment works in the cafeteria, and there are no major maintenance needs hanging out there; all the groceries get in on time, you know those types of things; your Board reports are ready – because we are a business. This is a business and we have to operate it thusly. It’s always something to do in terms of keeping that business afloat and making sure it’s where it needs to be to service the customer.

LG: What would you say some of the biggest challenges have been in your career, or maybe that you’re facing at the present time?

LS: I think some of the biggest challenges have been just ensuring that the regulatory requirements not overshadow the main mission, which is actually to feed the children. We were discussing about applications. It has been a challenge oft times to get those applications completed and yet service the children, as we know the need is there. That to me has been one of the greatest challenges.

LG: To get people to fill the free and reduced applications out.

LS: Right, when you know that those needs were there. But also some of the regular challenges are the changes in eating habits, the needs, the obesity, as we look at that across the nation, and across our state especially, just trying to get our children and our parents to accept our foods prepared in a different way from the non-traditional, and different types of foods, to incorporate the healthier types of foods into their diets and get them acclimated to that.

LG: What about working with the community? Do you perceive that there’s support from the community in the changes that child nutrition is experiencing to go to more healthy choices and that type if thing?

LS: I do believe that the community has begun to look at the child nutrition program in a different light. At one time I would be reluctant to say we had strong support from the community, but now that there’s a national push toward healthier eating the community has begun do understand more that child nutrition programs in the schools is where they can glean so much help for their children and for themselves. So they come to us more now to help them to do things within the community for healthy nutrition.

LG: Do you think the news media has helped promote this understanding or made people more aware?

LS: I would say make people more aware. I won’t say helped promote understanding, but would say yes to help people become more aware. One is technology, the technology we have today, people can go on the internet and find all types of information, but is it good information? I think that’s where we come in, when they come back, so that you can kind of validate for them ‘Is this what I really should be eating?’, ‘Is this what my child needs?’, and it makes you feel good that they have begun to understand and appreciate what we have been trying to do for them and with the children.

LG: How have you seen child nutrition change over the years when you think about when you first started in child nutrition and then think about where you are now, what changes?

LS: Oh my, it’s just massive. I think about the conversion of forms and accountability, those type of changes, because we were doing the 106 and 107s, and 104s, all of those types of things when I first came into child nutrition – F7s and F4 reports, and when I look now and see the type of record-keeping that we have and the technology that we have to use with our programs – our STI for student accountability – the process of the application is not as cumbersome as it was, or tedious. There were times that we had to actually approve applications by hand, just totally go through each one and approve them, and working especially in Birmingham when I first started, that was a monumental task.

LG: It had to be.

LS: It was a monumental task to ensure that they were correctly done, and you know, we’re just humans, and there are errors that will be made, and you have to go back and do those corrections of course. But now with the technology and new programs we have it has helped that so much. The type of equipment that we use in schools for preparing food is so different today. I look that and kind of laugh at some of the seasoned employees, because they don’t want to let go of some of those pieces. They say, “Oh no”, when I was talking about Mrs. Dyle, Mrs. Ella Dyle, she’s one that would tell you, “Oh no, don’t take that out. Just leave that in. It has been working. We say, “But Mrs. Dyle, we can now do this in half the time. It’s not as labor intensive to use this as to do it the way we used to.” One of the first managers that I encountered was a lady named Mrs. Manning, and I went into her school. Mrs. Manning was cleaning some greens, and she said to me, “Baby, you just go ahead and do that paperwork, and I will do these greens and cook the food. I’ve got this part; now you do that.” So I think about management skills and levels changing, and I can still envision her sitting there doing those greens and making sure that that meal was going to be there for the children. But as far as the paperwork, she said that was my responsibility.

LG: She delegated that, huh?

LS: She delegated it right on over to me, so I did that.

LG: What about technology, when computers first started being used, what type of response did you have from employees, managers about that?

LS: Oh, they were hostile. I really think they were hostile. They were like ‘Oh, no!’ We had to drag them to use them kicking and screaming. They were very reluctant to try this new technology, this new monster that was going to be on their desk every day that they were going to have to input information into; but now there’s not a manager who wants to be without her computer a moment. Not a day – if something comes up they call you immediately [to] get the technology guys out because they can see the value. It has saved them time and effort when they use these computers. Instead of doing multi-counters – I don’t know if you remember when we did meal counting with multi-counters –

LG: Oh, yes.

LS: – we [would] go through the line and do plate counts in order to have an accurate count, whereas now the children can come through and you can swipe their cards or key in their numbers, or in some cases do the finger-printing in for meal accountability, so we’ve just come so far with technology.

LG: I think sometimes we forget how far we’ve come. We have to stop and think about it.

LS: We do. I kind of takes you aback sometimes doesn’t it?

LG: Right. What do you think has been your most significant contribution to the field? You’ve done so many things through school nutrition and with your positions in Birmingham and Bessemer, but if you had to say, “This is what I feel like I have contributed”, and I know it’s going to be more than one thing.

LS: I don’t know. I believe you’ve put me on the spot with that. Well, hopefully it will be to have inspired those that I’ve worked with to seek more training. That has been one of my passionate things, I think, because I’m a true believer that the more you know about what you’re doing, the better you are equipped to deliver the best service to others. So I think that along the way, just getting people to understand their needs for improvement, self-improvement, that has been key to me.

LG: And you had a Louise Sublette Award winner this year.

LS: I did.

LG: Do you want to say a little bit about that?

LS: I do have the state Louise Sublette Award winner in our school district who is Carrie Martin Greenwood, who is just a go-getter. I love her because all you have to do is say that this is available to you, and she takes the challenge on moves with that. That has been very good for our school district to know that we have a state top winner for such a prestigious award as the Louise Sublette, so I think for Bessemer that makes the second one, because Carolyn Blake was also a Louise Sublette Award winner when you were there.

LG: Right.

LS: And just for small, little bitty Bessemer, seven schools, just in the cutting corner edge here of Jefferson County, I think that speaks volumes for the caliber of people that are working within the program.

LG: Well, and it tells about your encouragement too, because if you weren’t there encouraging it wouldn’t happen.

LS: If you say so.

LG: Do you have some memorable stories about special children or people that you’ve worked with?

LS: Other than that one about Mrs. Manning?

LG: That was pretty special.

LS: I was thinking yesterday about a little child that I saw one morning as I drove up to one of the schools in Birmingham, early in my career. It was about a quarter until seven that morning. It was cold; and there was a high fence around the school area. And I drove up and this child was just huddled there by the fence. And I got out of my car and said, “Why are you here? What’s going on?” And this child said to me, “I’m waiting for that lady to open up so I can eat.” This child had not eaten anything – I don’t want to get teary here – had not eaten anything from that previous Friday. This was a Monday. I’ve seen through the years this repeated too often where children are coming to us with a need that’s almost inhumane. But knowing that we are here to actually supply this need for these children, it’s so rewarding. It’s one of those things that you almost not have words for. In my mind just thinking about that child – one day, this one may be a little bit funnier, as the manager and I were walking among the children just kind of encouraging them to eat their lunch, we came across this child that had a little brown bag and we said, “Honey, what do you have in your bag?” And this child pulled out just a piece of bread and a can of beer. That’s all that that child had seen in his house to have for lunch. And so we immediately got money and fed that child. So we know the severity of the need of children whose lives we touch each day. And to me that becomes more important oft times than ensuring that some of the other things take precedence over what we are really here to do, and that is to ensure that our children’s physical needs in terms of their nourishment is taken care of.

LG: So, I’m not trying to put words in your mouth, but what I hear you saying is that ‘Yes, we do have hunger in the United States.’

LS: Absolutely.

LG: I think sometimes we tend to think ‘Oh that’s a third-world country problem’ and I’ve seen the same things. We do have problems right here at home.

LS: That’s right, right here at home. It lives next door to us. All we have to do is be willing to open our door, and then we can see.

LG: What advice would you give someone, and I know we have a lot of young people who are interested in child nutrition programs, thank goodness. What advice would you give somebody if they came to you and they said, “I think I may be interested in working in child nutrition, or I may want to pursue that as a profession, but I’m not sure.” What type of advice would you give them?

LS: Well, I would say to them, “Honey –

LG: You would; that’s exactly what you would say to them.

LS: And truthfully, I just love to see these young people coming on board as I go to the state meetings that we have and see all the new faces now beginning to come in. One of the things I would like to tell them is that they really need to have as much business training as possible, because we are in a financial business. They need good people skills in order to be in child nutrition. I think they need to have a broad and diverse type educational background. They definitely need some dietetic training for this, because you need to understand food, the basics of it. There are other areas that they need to look at other than that it is just a place for employment. I have been trying to encourage some young people that have come along my way to look at school nutrition, because it is a wonderful place to have a career.

LG: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

LS: I have really enjoyed working in child nutrition these thirty-five years that I have been working here, and even though I never knew I was going to be in this room I would do it all over again, given the opportunity. And one thing about it, the longer you’re in it, the more you grow and you learn, and be willing to change, because in this there’s nothing that stays the same very long; it’s constantly changing – except the need of children.

LG: And that’s still there, and what we’ve seen in the last couple of years with our economic situation in this country is we’re seeing more of a need; at least that’s what I see from the outside. Is that what you’re seeing?

LS: I see it too. I absolutely see it. Like you were saying earlier with the media putting so much attention on nutrition and wellness there is a greater need for nutrition education, and the way people are eating because of the lifestyle pace of people, the need for school nutrition becomes even greater; I think it does.

LG: Well thank you; great to see you and talk to you. I appreciate the interview.

LS: Thank you so much.