Alma Whittmore - Nutrition Services
Alma Whittmore feeding families nutrients and hope
To receive something genuine from the heart makes an offering that much more special. That’s why Alma Whittmore, Nutrition Services Manager at Chicora Elementary School, ensures the quality of the food served to her students is beyond expectation.
“We serve quality food, made with love,” said Whittmore. “I make sure the food is not just cooked but made special, hot and fresh. My coworkers and I nourish these babies with more than just food.”
For Whittmore, if her students can feel her love, she’s accomplished her mission.
“These children are our future,” said Whittmore. “We don’t know what they deal with at home, so when they come here, we have to provide a sanctuary where they can trust all of their needs will be met.”
Whittmore’s childhood was not always an easy one so she relates with the students at Chicora.
“I was one of them,” said Whittmore. “I feel called to let them know they are loved. That includes not just nourishment but even being consistent in enforcing rules or being there just to listen to their stories. Actions speak louder than words so it is important to me to do everything in my power to let these kids know they are loved.”
Coming to America
Whittmore was born in the Philippines and raised in Japan. She eventually married a man serving in the military which called for stops at Andrews Air Force Base and eventually Charleston Air Force Base in 2006.
She landed a job at the base in food services. She was eventually promoted to Food and Beverage Manager then as General Manager of Food Services for the 628 Force Support Squadron.
After several years Whittmore was ready for a change.
“I wanted to be able to serve in a way that was rewarding for me,” said Whittmore.
So the single mother of five children took a leap of faith and applied with Charleston County School District (CCSD). She was hired as a manager for Nutrition Services on January 16, 2018.
“These students are my heart,” said Whittmore. “They are the center of my work.”
Serving during a pandemic
In one department, CCSD officials were strategizing on the closing of schools and distance learning. In another, Walter Campbell, Executive Director of Nutrition Services, was strategizing about how to continue to feed thousands of the district’s students while buildings were closed indefinitely. To do that, Campbell would have to rely heavily on his team.
Whenever Campbell comes calling, Whittmore’s answer is always YES!
“He called me his rock star because I jumped at the opportunity to prepare and serve meals during our time away,” said Whittmore. “The truth of the matter is, he is the rock star. I wouldn’t be able to feed these babies on my own and that’s exactly what I would have tried to figure out how to do. Without the motivation from Mr. Campbell and district officials, to feed these kids, I wouldn’t be able to help.”
“We have a few hundred members of our team that are just like her and they too need to be recognized,” said Campbell. “Like Alma, these individuals reach deep down into their own pockets to help their students (their children).”
Whittmore said it bought her joy to see the children and their families as they came by campus to pick up their meals for the week.
“The babies wanted to get out of their cars and give me a hug when they drove through,” said Whittmore. “The moms were so grateful and thanked us profusely. I explained to them that CCSD is doing this so I can help provide for your family. I try to encourage people not to take advantage but be thankful and gracious.”
Whittmore misses the students, especially the ones that made it a point to stop by the cafeteria each morning to say hello and the ones that jumped out of the lunch line just to give her a hug. She also worries about them.
“The reality for many of the students is that they won’t have the sanctuary of the school for eight hours a day,” said Whittmore.
Even with school out for the summer, Whittmore and her co-workers continue to hustle everyday, providing meals for her ‘kids’.
At her school alone, there are three buses that are now delivering meals to various neighborhoods in the area.
“If someone calls for a meal drop off because they have no car, we tell the bus drivers to make a special trip,” said Whittmore. “The number of meals we are preparing continues to grow because we are now going to the children who don’t have access. We are feeding more students than the ones who actually attend Chicora.”
“Our team is extremely giving,” said Campbell. “From purchasing football cleats for a student athlete, to purchasing toothpaste and toiletries for students they know have none, to being there to answer the phone when a student has no one to talk to in the middle of the night, to opening the back door to the kitchen at 6 a.m. to serve breakfast to two young children that have had nothing to eat since the night before, to just listening when a student just failed a test and they don't know how to tell their parents, to giving a child a hug when they are having a bad day - the list goes on and on. It is truly a whole lot more than just serving food.”
Whittmore explained that under normal circumstances, her team feeds 300 kids, two times a day. Currently, they are feeding two meals a day to 575 students.
The needs continue to grow. For example, on March 16, 2020, which was the first day of grab and go style meals, 210 meals were distributed. A month later that number was over 550.
“I honestly wish I could cook hot meals over the weekend for these kids,” said Whittmore. “I can only do so much.”
Whittmore believes it is the responsibility of adults who bring children into this world to raise them responsibly. As a result, she and her children cook for the families at the Ronald McDonald House.
“I want to teach my children how fortunate they are,” said Whittmore. “Children struggle because adult parents can’t properly parent and are not capable of providing. It breaks my heart. Hopefully is some small way, providing these meals with some extra love sprinkled in, will fill some needs.”
Whittmore feels that God called her to serve the children.
“I’m not going to give up reaching one kid at a time if I can,” said Whittmore. “I don’t want anyone to feel the way I did growing up.”