Kiski Area food service chief wins state honors
Meredith Bailey says her job as Kiski Area School District's food service director is about more than tater tots.
She is responsible for all aspects of the district's food service operation, including budgeting, purchasing, staffing and training.
She makes sure meals meet complex and changing regulations, and that they taste good, too.
Sometimes, this means giving students food they may not recognize or want to eat — at least not at first.
Bailey is considered a leader and a mentor in her field, and it is for those reasons and more that she has been chosen as director of the year by the School Nutrition Association of Pennsylvania.
Bailey, 46, of Burrell Township will be honored at the association's annual conference Aug. 5 at Seven Springs Mountain Resort.
“Oh my gosh, I was really shocked. I was surprised,” she said. “I was really happy. It's a real honor, and I'm just very proud of it.”
As a state winner, she is a finalist for the School Nutrition Association's national director of the year award. The winner will be chosen in July, said Susan Meadows, president of the Pennsylvania association.
“She goes above and beyond,” said Meadows, food service manager for the Cumberland Valley School District. “She has worked really hard for all the kids of Pennsylvania, not only for her school district but for the state. She's lobbied in Washington, and has worked really hard for everyone.”
A native of Johnstown, Bailey has been food service director at Kiski Area since 2001.
“Mrs. Bailey is an outstanding ambassador for our district,” Superintendent John Meighan said. “Not only does she manage an excellent and creative program for our students, she is recognized for her contributions on a state (level) and, through her lobbying efforts, even a national level. I am proud to have her on our team.”
Bailey was previously food service director at Karns City Area School District for two years, and before that worked in the health care field for 10 years.
Bailey said she got “burned out” working in nursing homes and moved to schools for a much-needed change.
In April, Kiski Area served 47,000 lunches and nearly 15,000 breakfasts at its schools.
“I like it because it's challenging and things are always changing. It's never the same. Every day is something new going on,” she said. “One day you may be in the kitchen trying different foods, and the next day you're calling legislators about addressing issues that affect the school.
“It's more than just tater tots,” she said “It's very challenging, and it's not for everyone.”
Bailey is a past officer of the Pennsylvania association, including president, and has taught others, said Tricia Wood, a member of the group's board of directors and director at South Fayette School District.
“She's really involved with the legislative part,” Wood said. “She's always involved in the details.
“That's where the leadership part comes in. She's the go-to person for information. When there's changes in regulations she's the one filling everyone in.”
Bailey credited both Kiski Area and her family for supporting her. Bailey and her husband, Ken, have two sons, ages 21 and 6.
“I love it,” Bailey said. “I wouldn't go into any other profession.”
Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4701 or email@example.com.