By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
BRIDGETON â€“ Warren DeShields plays a huge role in the lives of school children in Bridgeton Public Schools.
DeShields doesn’t create lesson plans like teachers or run schools like a principal, but as director of food services, he is in charge of making sure some 6,000 students get fed healthy meals daily so they can learn and perform at their best.
DeShields, who said he knew he wanted to be chef at a young age, takes his job with pride, knowing that those meals can have positive impact on students on a regular basis.
“There are so many facets involved in my position as director of food services,” DeShields said. “We serve breakfast, lunch, dinner, the After School Snack and the Fresh Fruit & Vegetable program daily. We have a large summer feeding program and catering operation as well.
“We also recently started Farm to School initiatives that include school gardens and a hydroponic green house at the high school. What I enjoy most about my job is coordinating all these programs with my team and knowing that these are positive steps towards feeding the students in Bridgeton while bridging the gap between education and nutrition so our community learns how to feed themselves healthier in the future,” he added.
DeShields said probably the biggest misconception about the need for an outstanding food program in public schools is that since children will get at home, there’s no need to place a high value on it. The people who think that way would be wrong.
“Cumberland County and Bridgeton in particular have the highest rate of poverty and obesity in the state,” DeShields said. “School nutrition has the ability to assist in changing that with the programs that we offer students on a daily basis. If we can get them to eat nutritious meals at school, students will have the fuel needed to learn while they are in school and have the energy needed to participate in their after school activities.
“This also saves parents and guardians money to be used for other household bills and expenses. ‘All Students Eat Free with CEP (Community Eligibility Provision) in Bridgeton,’ this program has saved parents and guardians over $200,000 in breakfast and lunch charges in the years since its inception,” added DeShields, whose wife Jennifer is the supervisor for math and science at Bridgeton High School.
Climbing the Ranks
DeShields climbed the ranks from Bridgeton High School cafeteria manager to now food services director for all of Bridgeton Public Schools. His nutritional influence doesn’t stop there. He is a past president of the New Jersey School Nutrition Association and was elected as the School Nutrition Association’s Northeast Region Director.
He lobbies lawmakers annually in Washington D.C. for continued federal support and funding for the Child Nutrition Program.
DeShields said the culinary bug hit him at age 4 and food has meant something more than just sitting at a table and eating.
“I watched my mother, Peggy, cook and saw how her food made everyone happy,” said DeShields, who also does private catering on the side as Chef D. “She taught me to cook and by the age of 5, I was making scrambled eggs under her direction. Food has always been a huge part of our family and I am honored that my mother and several other food moms (Cynthia Wilks, Ruth Hands, and Marie Keith) have guided me along the way.”
But food is only one of DeShields’ loves. The other is sports. He had served as assistant football coach until 2018 and track coach at Bridgeton until 2015. He started coaching in 2004 where he helped guide five state championship teams, as well as a national high school champion in track. He had won county coach of the year honors in the process.
Today, he and Jennifer have been cheering on his son Solomon, an All-South Jersey wide receiver at Millville High School who just committed to the University of Pittsburgh to play football after his senior year.
” I have always been a huge sports fan,” DeShields said. ‘Growing up there were five kids in our family. Sports gave me my identity as a child and also gave me the motivation I needed to take my academics seriously.
“My elementary school physical ed teachers connected sports and academics and further showed me how teams in sports are just like teams at work. I played football and track in high school and went on to play football at Rowan after completing my degree in culinary arts. The NFL was not in my future so I gave up that dream and figured coaching was the best way to stay involved with sports and give back to the young people in the community,” he said.
DeShields said, though, he allowed his son’s recruiting to run through his coach Dennis Thomas and was pleased that he did.
“Dennis assured me when we transferred Solomon over to Millville that he would take care of him,” DeShields said. “Twenty-seven offers later I would say he kept his word. Millville has been excellent in this whole process. Athletic director, Dave LaGamba, and his guidance counselor, Tamara Jackson, have worked tirelessly to promote, guide, and motivate Solomon to have success. It takes a village and there have been several people who have helped along the way.”
Tragedy struck the DeShields’ family in 2013 when his sister Crystal DeShields died unexpectedly from a stroke in South Carolina at 43. DeShields said losing her changed his life.
“I think about Crystal every day,” DeShields said. “I sometimes forget something and think to myself, just call Crystal and ask her, she knows. Those moments do not upset me at all. I think of them as ways she has found to keep her memory alive.
“Losing her has made me take a closer look at my health and lifestyle. I now go for regular check-ups and watch my diet and activities more frequently. Our lost loved ones will never leave our minds. I just have to believe that there is a purpose in the loss that we have to see through in their honor,” he added.
When DeShields started a company to help motivate athletes based on his coaching experience, he named it after her, Crystal Clear Coaches.
“I started it to empower athletic motivation,” DeShields said. “The objective is to identify what motivates an athlete, and show them how to use that in competition. I named it after Crystal. A Crystal Clear mind is what we strive to give athletes. I have not done much with the business, because of my work in school food service, but that passion is still there.”
DeShields said in the future, he sees himself continuing his passion around food and feeding the children of Bridgeton schools while supporting his family as they find their passions as well.
“I see myself continuing to support my wife Jennifer and all three of my sons in whatever endeavors they are involved,” DeShields said. “Each of them have their own unique interest that I wholeheartedly support. Jen will still be involved in education and everything I expressed before.
“My oldest Jae is seeking his personal trainer certificate and hopes to work with youth. Maybe Solomon will be in the NFL but more importantly college-educated. And the youngest Jared is an aspiring actor who hopes to be on stage and screen when he’s done college. Me, I’ll still be promoting all things school food service here in The Great City of Bridgeton and across this great nation,” he concluded.