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School Leader Demonstrates Gratitude to Staff One Homecooked Meal at a Time

Over the past nine months, families across the country and world have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, stirring strong emotions for us all and inspiring acts of kindness and generosity in others.
After spending more time with her family throughout COVID-19 closures, Melissa Nickel, principal at Taylor Exemplar Academy, fondly recalls the activities that brought her joy during a difficult time. “During our COVID closure at the end of last school year I spent time reflecting on what it was that I truly enjoyed due to being able to be at home with my kids,” she shared.
 A thank you letter.

A key theme for her and her family centers around the heart of any home: the kitchen. Nickel shared that she had more time to cook meals for her family, which provided the opportunity to connect in a different way. With sports programs being canceled and stay at home orders in place, her family was presented with the opportunity to gather around the table to spend quality time together enjoying her homecooked meals.
“As we planned for a return to school, I realized that I was going to miss those family dinners and planned to do some prepping ahead of time to ensure we could still do so a few times per week,” she said.

A couple of prepared meals.
Inspired by the success her family found around the dinner table, Nickel sought ideas from her peers on an online networking group that centered around school leaders sending home staff with pizzas or pasta. She decided to take it one step further and cook homemade meals for her staff to show her appreciation for their work during these challenging times. After sending out a Google Sheet to discover any food allergies and to determine the size of her staff’s families, Nickel got to work creating meals for her family as a test run.
“I created a list of meals that my kids really like that are freezer-friendly and could last for a while if the staff decides not to eat them right away,” she said. “Some of the meals I have prepared include lasagna, chicken enchiladas, Mexican lasagna, and baked goulash. I have a few more items that I am going to try out on my family before having my staff receive them!”
A thank you card.

Principal Nickel then selects staff members each week who could benefit from something being taken off of their plate. “Perhaps I have heard that they are struggling with work-life balance; maybe they had a family member who was ill, or they simply could be feeling the weight of COVID-19 and all the extra demands it has placed on them emotionally,” she shared.
Making these meals even more special, this caring school leader is taking time on her weekends to prepare these meals, using her personal funds to purchase the items. The following week, she delivers the meals by placing the frozen food in our staff lounge freezer with a note on it with the staff member’s name. Adding yet another personal touch, she includes a hand-written note of appreciation, letting them know they have a pre-made dinner awaiting them in the freezer.

Children enjoying the food.
“I have made 11 of my staff members and their families dinner so far this year, with the goal of ensuring that every staff member receives a homecooked meal from me before the school year ends,” said Nickel.
Other members of the Taylor leadership team also are in on this kind gesture, recommending staff members who may need a pick-me-up during the week. “It is my hope that during our time of remote learning I will be able to continue to provide homemade dinners to my staff and instead of placing them in the staff lounge freezer, they may just find me with a meal on their front porch!” said Nickel.

Screenshot of a text message thanking the other person for dinner.
This gesture has been warmly received by the staff and their families. In response to her homemade meals, one voicemail says in part: “I wanted to thank you for that delicious lasagna. It was such a good meal and I wanted to thank you again. It was so kind of you.” Another staff member texted her thanks to the school leader, saying: “No, I do not have tears in my eyes. Thank you.”
As the school’s learning model shifts throughout the year, Nickel plans to continue this effort by adapting her delivery style as needed.
“I strongly believe that my act of taking my time to personally cook for them demonstrates how grateful I am for the time that they give to me and our scholars,” she said. “It has brought many staff to tears and, in turn, I have felt a surge of appreciation for the importance of showing the people I work with how grateful I am for them.”