Grand Rapids — For the second straight year, a Grand Rapids Public Schools food and nutrition services employee has won top honors from the School Nutrition Association of Michigan.
Robin Bieschke, the kitchen manager at Westwood Middle School, was named the association’s Employee of the Year. She’s in her 21st year at GRPS and seventh year at Westwood Middle School.
He noted that Bieschke is a visible presence at Westwood who greets students as they enter the cafeteria and walks around during mealtimes, encouraging students to try new items. He and Bieschke also worked together to update the school’s serving area with new signs and banners to promote healthy eating.
“She understands the students,” he added. “And she takes pride in the presentation of the food.”
Bieschke, a Comstock Park High School graduate who has worked in some type of food service since age 16, said the pride comes from a sense of responsibility to her approximately 225 students.
Cafeteria as Safe Place
“I absolutely love getting to know the kids, making them feel welcome and that the cafeteria is a safe place for them,” she said. “I try to learn all their names and greet them by name every day. I love to hear when they like the food. But when serving something new I will walk around and ask how they like it, and I also love to hear their honest opinions, some even giving me tips on how it might be better.”
In a typical week as kitchen manager Bieschke is responsible for all the ordering of food and supplies, does all necessary paperwork and cooks all of the hot food.
“We feed both breakfast and lunch,” she said. “With the supply chain shortages it’s been a struggle, but I still try to offer at least four meal choices a day. Two hot and two cold options.”
She said she could not do what she does with her assistant cook, Ellie Flake.
“She is my right hand,” Bieschke said. “She makes a beautiful salad bar. With Covid restrictions that means individually bagging or cupping all the items on the salad bar.”
‘I absolutely love getting to know the kids, making them feel welcome and that the cafeteria is a safe place for them.’– Robin Bieschke, Westwood Middle School
Covid, Bieschke added, has been tough for food service workers, custodians, bus drivers and many others who often feel underappreciated.
“I feel like all food service workers deserve an award like this for what we have done in the past couple of years and continue to do today with supply-chain shortages,” she said. “And I hope that districts and the public realize what an important service we provide.”
Count Greene among those who knows that what Bieschke provides is invaluable.
“Her positive attitude provides encouragement to other team members,” he said. “She has a great sense of humor that helps to create a great work environment.”