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Laura Gordon, right, the cafeteria lead at Yolo Middle School, has been named the Newman-Crows Landing Unified School District’s nominee to the annual “Employees Making a Difference” program. She is pictured with staff members, from left, Mallory Basim, Elena Torres and Kelsey Cunningham.

NEWMAN - Laura Gordon brought a love of cooking to the kitchen of Yolo Middle School when she became the school’s food services lead three years ago.

More importantly, she brought a passion for helping ensure students are well-fed, which has led her to develop a new breakfast option at Yolo. In addition to the daily challenges of feeding hundreds of students, Gordon has also made a difference by delivering meals to students in disadvantaged areas during the summer months and taking food to displaced families in time of crisis.

Gordon was recently recognized for her numerous contributions in support of students when the Newman-Crows Landing Unified School District named her its nominee to the “Employees Making a Difference” program which honors classified employees from schools across Stanislaus County.

She will be recognized Jan. 22 at a reception in Modesto.

Gordon started with the school district six years ago working as a substitute for both the after-school program and nutritional services at Orestimba High. She quickly settled into a part-time position as a server at the high school, and advanced from there.

“I liked the after-school program, but I wanted to be in nutritional services,” she explained.

At Yolo, she oversees a staff of about a half dozen employees who meet the nutritional needs of nearly 800 middle school students and prepares meals which are delivered to the alternative education program.

“We manage a kitchen that has six points of service for lunch, plus a golf cart that serves snacks,” Gordon explained. “We really try to make the food appealing to students and giving them as many choices as possible. Our role is to make sure that the kids are getting proper nutrition, so it feeds their minds and they can come to school every day and learn. Not all students have the opportunity to eat before they come to school.....or after school for that matter.”

Not surprisingly given the age group, cheeseburgers, pizza and nachos are traditionally the most popular menu items.

But the cafeteria staff provides around seven different items each day so students have variety from which to choose and, hopefully, something that appeals to every student, Gordon explained.

All items are prepared within nutritional guidelines, she noted, and an increasing percentage of dishes are prepared from scratch.

She has worked to increase nutritional opportunities for students. One example is the second-chance breakfast program which Gordon worked with site administration to implement.

The traditional breakfast program was feeding around 140 students, she noted, but others were getting hungry by 9 or so in the morning.....still well ahead of lunch time. The second breakfast serving was implemented, and the combined breakfast count shot up to around 400 students being served daily.

Principal Eva Luna noted that Gordon also initiated a student lunch server program to help build a school connection with at-risk students, volunteered her time to serve meals to Newman-Crows Landing families who were displaced by San Joaquin River flooding and participates in various community service activities.

Superintendent Randy Fillpot said Gordon embodies the spirit of the recognition program.

“She is always volunteering to help with things,” he said.

Gordon, who was a pediatic dental assistant in the past, said she has always enjoyed working with youth.

Her love of cooking made the food services position a natural, she reflected.

“I get to cook, do special events and community outreach. Those are all things I really enjoy doing,” Gordon commented. “I love to cook. I cook all weekend long when I get home. To me, it is relaxing.”

Her staff - and food services employees across the district - share a common bond in their dedication to students, she added.

“Nutritional services is made up of moms, grandmas and aunts who really care about the kids,” she concluded. “We really try hard to make sure that they are happy throughout the day. We all find it very rewarding.”