As the food service director at Edison Schools, she seeks to make sure they have the best service possible.
“My biggest motivation is my kids and knowing what I would want them to come to school to and receive,” she said. “With kids in general, you don’t know what’s going on at home, and some of them will tell you, and it breaks your heart, but that motivates me to make sure I’m doing the best I can do in my department to help the overall success of the schools.”
Geason is the fourth person to be featured in the Register’s “Making a Difference” series about hard-working, beloved employees in our community.
Diving into food service
Geason grew up in Sandusky but graduated from Elyria High School in 1990. A longtime employee in restaurant management, she switched to school food service about 11 years ago for a better schedule. She’s had her job at Edison Schools for about five years.
“I was a single mom with two boys who wanted to stay in management level but wanted a career where I could be with her kids, and restaurant food service doesn’t provide that schedule,” she said. “When I got into school food service, I just fell in love with it. I was very excited when I moved back to Ohio and this opportunity (at Edison Schools) came up.”
She likes how her job varies each day.
“It’s just something different everyday,” she said. “Yes, there are lots of rules and regulations that we are constantly trying to grasp, follow and change, but it’s something fun and creative, and it’s great every day with the kids.”
Since she oversees cafeteria operations at Edison elementary, middle and high schools, Geason needs to be organized. To do that, she sends herself emails and texts to remind herself of tasks to accomplish.
“It’s what you have to have with this job,” she said.
Organization is vital since federal school meal regulations often change. Geason has learned about, and adapted to, the frequent changes when they come.
“You have to figure them out and adapt to them to make them work,” she said. “We get reviewed a lot (by state and federal officials) who check out the district’s vendors and food practices. I’ve also learned to be patient because it will all work out.”
But she’s not alone to make sure Edison Schools’ cafeterias run smoothly. Her 12 staff members, with four at each school, are there to help. They are a large part of why Geason likes working in the school district.
“I can’t do any of this without my staff,” she said. “I always tell them, ‘My goal is to make you successful.’ They are doing the day-to-day everything: They are in front with the kids every single day, and sometimes they are the first person kids see at breakfast. It might be the only meal they’re getting. My staff is awesome. I’m very lucky to have the staff I have.”
A taste of what she does
Geason’s schedule varies, but she’s always at work prior to 6 a.m. Before breakfast is served, she checks in with each school’s cafeteria to make sure equipment is working and there’s enough food for the day.
“I’ll see if I need to run to Sandusky’s Gordan Food Service for something,” she said.
She also orders food, deals with vendors and creates monthly menus for Edison students, which they help create.
“I’m in the cafeteria talking to kids, asking what sounds good to them,” she said. “I do student surveys and taste tests.”
Geason plans themed meals for national holidays and other fun occasions, like World Smile Day, which included smiley-faced potatoes, bread and other foods.
On Wednesday, a “winter fun” lunch was served districtwide with Christmas tree-shaped chicken nuggets, winter-blend vegetables, “snowball” potatoes, a frozen fruit cup and a holiday cookie.
Each month, Edison Elementary’s cafeteria celebrates students’ birthdays. These students get to be first in line on their birthday, eat at a special table, get birthday cookies and receive a birthday prize.
Recently, Geason created a Twitter account, called Charger Cafeteria (@Edisonlunchlady) where she posts photos of brightly colored fruit, promotes special lunches and more while engaging families and community members.
“If you don’t market your program, no one will know about it,” she said. “You have to be your own biggest cheerleader.”
For further community engagement, she teams up with the physical education department at the elementary school to host a yearly fitness challenge, where she serves smoothie bites and has a taste test station. She applies for grant with Play 60 to help fund the event.
With her office at Edison Middle School, students often make short visits, asking her what’s for lunch and participating in food-related word games with Geason.
Without a doubt, they are her favorite part of the job.
It’s the kids,” she said. “It’s why we’re all here and why we do it.”
Seeing her succeed
Edison Schools superintendent Tom Roth commended Geason for her can-do attitude.
“Shelly has a wonderfully positive attitude that is contagious,” he said. “She never complains and is always doing what she can to make others have a better day. She is always willing to help in any way she can.”
He noted how Geason is “always ready and willing to do anything” to make district cafeterias the best possible.
“She works with her staff to come up with healthy, unique and fun meals for our students,” Roth said. “She has written and received many grants to enhance the food offerings at our schools. In fact, Shelly has done so much with the grant ‘Fuel up to Play 60’ that she is the official food service spokesperson for the organization for our area.”
Geason also encourages Edison Schools staff to be healthy, too.
“Shelly not only promotes healthy eating and good health with our students, but she also does the same with our staff,” Roth said. “She is a major part of our wellness committee and brings in fun and exciting programs to promote exercise and healthy eating with our staff. In short, Shelly is a vital member of our staff who always gives her all to make Edison Schools a great place for our students to attend school.”