Grace Cottage food service manager receives national award

TOWNSHEND — Grace Cottage Family Health & Hospital Food Service Manager Denise Choleva has been named the Certified Dietary Manager of the Month by the national Association of Nutrition & Foodservice Professionals (ANFP).

“My favorite part of my job is making people happy with food,” Choleva said in a questionnaire on the ANFP website. “We take pride in everything we do in our department and everything is cooked from scratch. It's fun to come up with new ideas for our salad bar. Especially during COVID-19, food helps everyone get through their day and comforts those in need.”

Choleva has worked in food service at Grace Cottage for 22 years and has managed the department since 2002. She started her training for this career as a child, helping her grandmother with her catering business. She attended high school at Franklin County Technical School in Turners Falls, Mass., studying culinary arts and working in restaurants and a grocery deli.

In her position at Grace Cottage, she promotes camaraderie among her staff and regularly works in the kitchen alongside her five-person team, who are “like family.”

“I work side by side with my employees, I fill in when needed, I love working on the salad bar, cooking for our patients and staff, I do the ordering, I put the order away. I do dishes, I visit patients, I do my office work, payroll, dietary visits, hiring, training, billing, solving problems, communication, training - the list goes on and on, but most importantly leading my team to make every day successful no matter what comes our way,” she said.

“We have lots of local farmers and we purchase as much local and sustainable foods as possible,” she said, adding that “I am lucky in southern Vermont to have Food Connects, who works with local farmers to distribute their items. Last year, 38 percent of our food expenses supported local producers.”

She values innovation, which she has put to good use during the pandemic.

Choleva has been a member of ANFP since 2001. She has served as secretary/treasurer and president for the Vermont chapter and was recently chosen as a Subject Matter Expert for the national ANFP credentialing exam task force. She is also involved with the Vermont Healthy Food in Healthcare Workgroup.

Grace Cottage Hospital receives many thank-you notes from former inpatients who comment on how much they appreciated the food created by Choleva's department.

“I have the best team a girl could ask for,” she says.

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