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Red Lake Schools Food Service Coordinator wins state recognition

Red Lake School District Food Service Coordinator Mary Jo Lange assists a student with his school meal. Submitted photo.

The non-profit Minnesota School Nutrition Association (MSNA) has awarded Mary Jo Lange the state Director of the Year Award. Lange served as the Food Service Coordinator for Red Lake School District 38. The award recognizes the extraordinary contributions of school nutrition directors who manage effective school meal programs providing healthy, appetizing meals to students.

As a food service coordinator on a tribal reservation, Lange inherited a large deficit, which she eliminated in four years by lowering staffing costs, reducing food costs and increasing sales, according to a press release from the school.

When the district was building a new kitchen and cafeteria, she applied for and won the national Winston Industry Grant, which allowed her to purchase new equipment. Lange also enrolled her district in the Community Eligibility Provision, which allows all students to eat school breakfast and lunch for free.

Lange trains her staff and surrounding districts on food safety protocols, sanitation procedures and maintains state mandated Minnesota Department of Health Food manager certificates.

She also provides trainings in conjunction with the Tribal Council's New Beginnings program, which helps members to learn new skills so they can work in the community.

She has helped write grant applications and received funding through Statewide Health Improvement Partnership grants to work with the Indian Health Services Committee to provide education on helping Native Americans improve their health through good nutrition and increasing physical activity.

Lange makes daily rounds to help deliver high school "Breakfast in the Classroom" meals, applied for a breakfast improvement grant and was able to increase high school breakfast participation by 485 percent, the release said.

In July, Lange will be honored during the Awards Ceremony at the School Nutrition Association's Annual National Conference in Atlanta, Ga. She will also be honored during the Awards Ceremony at Minnesota School Nutrition Association's Annual Conference on July 31 in Duluth.