School Nutrition Employee of the Year honored by recognition

Maria Madrid, head cook at Lamar Early Education Center, poses with a sign congratulating her on being the School Nutrition Employee of the Year for ECISD. She has been with the district for 17 years. (Photo courtesy of ECISD)

Maria Madrid loves what she does.

As head cook at Lamar Early Education Center, she and her team turn out about 400 meals a day for students. She enjoys seeing the smiles on their faces as they take their trays and eat.

Recently Madrid was recognized with the School Nutrition of the Year award from Ector County ISD.

The district delivers the surprise awards in May. The employees receive a large poster to display and an award and a cash gift from the Education Foundation of Odessa.

Fifteen team members received the recognition this year. Madrid definitely believe in the school district’s vision of students being the future.

She also strongly believes in her faith and God. She attends Apostolic Faith Tabernacle.

“God is the source of my strength by giving me the physical and emotional support to have the energy needed throughout my work shift,” Madrid said.

She grew up on a ranch close to Ojinaga, Chihuahua, in a farming family.

She arrived in Odessa about 25 years ago and worked some years in a restaurant. One day, her nieces invited her to eat at their school.

When she saw the kids in line getting their lunches and happily eating, “I knew that is what I wanted to do — work in a school cafeteria,” Madrid said.

She later applied and was hired. She worked at Blackshear Elementary for six years and has been at Lamar for 11.

“I enjoy my job and I try to do the best I can …,” Madrid said.

She added that it was a big surprise to receive the employee of the year award.

They told her that morning they were going to have a meeting with the principal. When the time came, they left the cafeteria and saw Superintendent Scott Muri and his team and School Nutrition Director Jieun Pando and and her team.

They announced that the award was for her. She never imagined she would be acknowledged in this way.

“I feel honored and grateful for this recognition. I go to work without expecting any acknowledgement, but having it motivates me even more to continue,” Madrid said.

She added that she appreciates the incentive provided by the Education Foundation.

Because of her parents, she learned to plant, work and harvest.

“I look at the motto of ECISD (and) I identify with it — Our Students … the Future,” she said.

Madrid said she is honored to achieve her personal goals and to feel like she is contributing something to the community, to “this beautiful country that (opened) the door for me so I can have a better future.”

In school nutrition, there are sections where people are in charge of meat, vegetables and fruit. Madrid said she makes the entrees.

Originally from Ojinaga, Mexico, Madrid has been with ECISD for 17 years.

Before coming to Lamar, she was at Blackshear Elementary and they cooked 1,200 meals a day there because one kitchen covers Blackshear and Milam elementary schools and Carver Early Education Center.

At Lamar, they serve about 450 meals a day to that campus and the YMCA.

Even though she cooks all day, she still likes to cook at home.

Together, she and her husband, Paz Carrillo, have three children and six grandchildren. The youngest are twin girls and they attended prekindergarten at Lamar last year.

Monserato Garza, administrative assistant at Carver, said she thinks Madrid winning the award is wonderful.

“I think they deserve all everything that they can get because of all the hard work that they do,” Garza said.

She said the school nutrition staff are everywhere delivering breakfast up and down the hall.

“She’s a very hard worker. You always see her going up and down (the hall),” Garza said.

“She’s very caring and she’s always saying hi to everybody, but you can see how she works,” she added.