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BRATTLEBORO — Ali West, food service director for Windham Southeast Supervisory Union, received this year’s Outstanding Achievement Award from the School Nutrition Association of Vermont and Hunger Free Vermont for her long list of accomplishments in local schools.

West “is just an incredible asset to our district,” Sheila Humphreys, Farm to School program coach for Food Connects, said at the WSESU Board meeting last Wednesday.

Humphreys said she and Kathy Cassin, garden coordinator at Academy School, nominated West for the award that recognizes “directors or managers whose efforts exemplify positive attitudes, creativity and expertise regarding the challenge of providing nutrition services to Vermont students especially in times of elevated standards, fewer resources and recently a pandemic.”

“She has worked tirelessly during the pandemic to ensure that all students in our community are well nourished,” Cassin said. “In March of 2020, she pivoted her entire operation and sent meals home to students within three days of school closures. She managed teams of volunteers in her kitchen throughout the spring of 2020, creating efficient systems for getting students fed at home daily.”

West maintained a positive attitude throughout the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cassin said, citing staffing shortages and supply chain issues. She found “creative ways to solve numerous seemingly impossible problems,” Cassin added.

Humphreys said West “is committed to serving high quality, nutritious food to students and staff. During her five-year tenure, the food quality has increased enormously, prioritizing purchasing local food whenever possible given her tight budget and a shift to scratch cooking.”

“Ali tries out bold new recipes on her menu,” Humphreys said. “Her menus always feature a vegan option.”

Humphreys said the number of students and staff eating meals has increased dramatically under West’s leadership. This school year, participation among staff at Brattleboro Union High School went up by 20 percent, and by 25 percent for students.

“Ali cares deeply about all students and she is committed to equity in her work,” Cassin said. “She strives to make all students feel welcome, no matter where they are from, and that desire inspired her to create the Where in the World Are We Eating? program, a monthly program where the entire school community celebrates diversity through their taste buds.”

Humphreys credited West with providing meals to Afghan refugees and guiding them via information about how to eat school food in keeping with their cultural traditions.

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“How wonderful to recognize Ali this way,” WSESU Board Chairwoman Michelle Luetjen Green said. “She really has gone the extra mile.”

Green recounted uncertainty during the first few days of the pandemic, being home with four children and feeling isolated.

“Then the kids started squealing that their bus was here and what a surprise that breakfasts and lunches were being delivered to our door at a time where the world felt scary and a trip to three stores resulted in no one having milk in stock. That is how I learned who Ali West was,” Green said. She called West’s support “meaningful.”

Jaci Reynolds, former food service director in the district and former board member, described how a group she led quickly tried to pull together a community Thanksgiving in November “with very little time” and West immediately offered to help with much of the logistics.

Bethany Ranquist of Brattleboro said West provides meals for students in an after-school program she runs at Academy School.

“My students are obsessed with vegetable and egg frittatas now,” she said.

Central office staff respects and admires the work of West and her team, said Frank Rucker, business administrator for WSESU.

“But it’s also the infrastructure that a lot of folks don’t see,” Rucker said. “Ali is making sure that we are upgrading our system. She’s helped us coordinate grant opportunities, you know, replace and rebuild where we need to. She’s not only a superstar today but she’s setting us up for years to come and we really appreciate that partnership.”

Mark Speno, interim superintendent, said, “It’s been an honor to work with Ali.”