Providing Meals and Compassion at Crete-Monee SD 201-U

Pamela Pansa is the Director of Food Service at Crete-Monee School District 201-U. Crete-Monee SD 201-U has nine on-site preparation kitchens and one satellite kitchen. The district’s cafeterias serve over 5,000 students daily, with each cafeteria supervised by its own manager. Pam Pansa oversees it all! Ms. Pansa is passionate about providing meals for kids. As a child, she and her siblings experienced food insecurity. Knowing what hunger and food insecurity feel like, and how exhausting it is, fuels her passion for ending child hunger through school nutrition.

Talking with Ms. Pansa, I could hear just how much she loves and respects the kids that she serves. In every story she told about her students, she humanized them and their experiences. Ms. Pansa has been working since 1996. She has seen and learned a lot. From her personal and professional experiences, she knows that every student does not have a picture-perfect home life. There are several challenges students face every day that inhibit their ability to get to school on time to eat breakfast, let alone eat before coming to school. Like adults, children deal with many emotions every day. They experience grief, trauma, and anxiety. Pamela makes sure that no matter what’s going on in those kids’ lives, there is breakfast waiting for them at school when they arrive. She sits down with late-comers and talks with them as they eat, creating a more comfortable environment. Food does more than provide essential nutrients and fill bellies, it is a source of comfort; food gives physical and emotional healing and nourishment as well. Nutrition professionals like Ms. Pansa represent the impact of school nutrition, and the level of time and care that goes into it. Food service directors and employees in school nutrition who take action and regularly show compassion towards the youth in their communities ultimately support both their mental and physical well-being.

Ms. Pansa loves her profession whole-heartedly. While she could not decide what her favorite part of her work is, she did talk about how “it’s all about helping each other out.” In April of 2020, Ms. Pansa created a roundtable group filled with food directors from around the Midwest. With the uncertainty and disruption, the pandemic brought, Pamela said “All of them were scared to death. Deer in headlights.” The roundtable was a great support group conducted via phone call that helped directors answer questions of “How do we feed these kids?” “Where do we start?” and “Where do we go?” With help from Ms. Pansa’s resourcefulness, Midwestern food service directors were able to lean on one another and solve the challenges they were facing during the crisis without putting staff in harm’s way. No matter how many people were on the group call, the roundtable still operated and navigated finding the food and supplies they needed to keep operations going. Fun fact: Ms. Pansa’s round table inspired Rise and Shine IL to create our own monthly peer support program named “Peer to Peer”!

As we wrapped up our conversation, Ms. Pansa advised: “Just have fun or you’re not going to enjoy your job. Some people hate their jobs, but you need to find the fun part of it “. I hope Ms. Pansa never runs out of things to enjoy about her work in child nutrition. Pamela Pansa is a valuable accomplice in the journey to bettering child nutrition access in Illinois!