The national, nonprofit School Nutrition Association (SNA) has named Coni Dobbels, Director of Food and Nutrition Services for the Davenport Community School District, as the Midwest regional Director of the Year. The award recognizes the exceptional contributions of school nutrition directors who manage successful school meal programs that provide healthy, appetizing meals to students. 

Dobbels was announced as the Midwest regional Director of the Year during a School Lunch Hero Day (SLHD) online awards ceremony on May 2. The accomplishments of Dobbels and all of this year’s SNA award winners will also be recognized in a special publication and promoted in SNA’s annual SLHD social media campaign on Facebook.com/TrayTalk and TrayTalk.org.

She has increased the accessibility of healthy meals to all students in the Davenport Community School District. At one point, the district supported drive-thru meal pick-up sites at six different locations. Today, they still operate a weekly food distribution site that serves nearly 1,800 meals for students engaged in online learning.

Before the COVID pandemic affected school meal programs, Dobbels wanted to introduce a Breakfast in the Classroom program. She was able to launch the program with the financial assistance of grants and the district has since seen a 30% increase in breakfast participation.

Under her guidance, the department began donating unused food to a local homeless shelter to be distributed before school breaks. Share tables have also been set up at 28 schools in the district and she worked with school nurses to ensure those items went to students in need.

She understands the importance of providing a positive work environment for staff members. She created an Employee of the Month program where employees can nominate each other and hires motivational speakers for in-service training. She provides each of the 170 employees personalized birthday cards and has been known to hide “ducks” for staff members to find in the kitchens. 

Dobbels asks for student input in menu choices and holds focus groups to hear student concerns and offer menu tastings. She has developed themed meals, working with the school curriculum to support events such as Johnny Appleseed’s birthday and Earth Day. As the director of Food and Nutrition Services, she has had the opportunity to become a Junior Achievement volunteer and teach in several classrooms.

“Coni Dobbels is a leader who puts others first and understands what motivates her team. The Davenport Community School District and its students benefit from her dedication to providing healthy school meals,” said SNA President Beth Wallace, MBA, SNS.

Dobbels is currently the Vice President of the School Nutrition Association of Iowa. She advocates for joining the local and national School Nutrition Association and works on behalf of its members, recently helping to implement wage increases for employees who obtain SNA certifications.

The regional Director of the Year Award was created to recognize school nutrition directors who demonstrate an exceptional commitment to their school meal programs. Directors are responsible for maintaining the quality of the program through student interaction, menu planning and a commitment to serving nutritious, tasty and well-balanced school meals. They ensure the overall success of school meal programs through effective oversight of all aspects of foodservice operations, including budgeting, staffing, training, marketing and community outreach.