Nutrition services

Director of Food and Nutrition Services Wins Regional Award

The national nonprofit School Nutrition Association (SNA) has named Coni Dobbels, director of food and nutrition services for the Davenport Community School District, as Midwest Regional Director of the Year. The award recognizes the outstanding contributions of directors of school nutrition who successfully manage school lunch programs that provide healthy, appetizing meals to students.

Dobbels was named Regional Manager of the Year in the Midwest during an online awards ceremony on School Lunch Heroes Day (SLHD) on May 2. The achievements of Dobbels and all of this year’s SNA Award winners will also be recognized in a special post and promoted in SNA’s annual SLHD social media campaign on Facebook.com/TrayTalk and TrayTalk.org.

She has increased accessibility to healthy meals for all students in the Davenport Community School District. At one point, the district supported drive-thru meal pickup sites at six different locations. Today, they still operate a weekly food distribution site that serves nearly 1,800 meals to students engaged in online learning.

Before the COVID pandemic affected school lunch programs, Dobbels wanted to introduce a classroom breakfast program. She was able to start the program with financial assistance from grants, and the district has since seen a 30 percent increase in breakfast attendance.

Under his leadership, the department began donating unused food to a local homeless shelter for distribution before school holidays. Sharing tables have also been set up at 28 schools in the district and she has worked with school nurses to ensure these items go to students in need.

She understands the importance of providing a positive work environment for staff members. She has created an Employee of the Month program where employees can nominate each other and hires motivational speakers for ongoing training. She provides each of the 170 employees with personalized birthday cards and has been known to hide “ducks” that staff members can find in the kitchens.

Dobbels asks for student input in menu choices and hosts focus groups to hear student concerns and offer menu tastings. She developed themed meals, working with the school program to support events such as Johnny Appleseed’s birthday and Earth Day. As Director of Food and Nutrition Services, she had the opportunity to volunteer for Junior Achievement and teach several classes.

“Coni Dobbels is a leader who puts others first and understands what motivates her team. The Davenport Community School District and its students benefit from his dedication to providing healthy school lunches,” said SNA President Beth Wallace, MBA, SNS.

Dobbels is currently vice president of the School Nutrition Association of Iowa. She advocates for membership in the local and national school nutrition association and works on behalf of its members, recently helping to implement salary increases for employees who obtain SNA certifications.

The Regional Director of the Year award was created to recognize directors of school nutrition who demonstrate exceptional commitment to their school meal programs. Principals are responsible for maintaining the quality of the program through student interaction, menu planning, and a commitment to serving nutritious, tasty, and well-balanced school meals. They ensure the overall success of school lunch programs through effective oversight of all aspects of catering operations, including budgeting, staffing, training, marketing and community outreach.