TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — At a time when it seems no two people can concur on anything, there may be one area of agreement crossing boundaries: We long to hear good news rising above all the din of dire, necessary information.

On Hudson-Poole Fine Jewelers’ social media page, happy stories about local heroes, people working above and beyond, have been shared for several weeks. Readers were asked to vote for their favorite local hero.

After narrowing nominees to a top five, votes piled in, and at deadline, Lynda Smith, a much-loved long-time Englewood Elementary School employee, assistant manager of the Child Nutrition Program, came out on top.

Hudson-Poole presented Smith with 18K white gold Forevermark diamond-drop earrings Friday, a $1,200 value. Dealers in Forevermark, a DeBeers line earned by only 1 percent of diamonds in the world, decided it would be uplifting to hear such stories.

“We just wanted to celebrate people in the community who are everyday heroes,” said Krista Poole. “We thought it would be spirit-lifting.

“We were just really blown away by the nominations,” she added, which included medical personnel and other first-responders, and volunteers such as mask-making machine Tina Marie Price. Thousands of votes came in; Smith edged ahead, winning with 1,900.

Runners-up included Price, who’s turned out more than 5,000 masks, working from home; nurse Reagan Wild, who works on DCH’s ICU COVID floor; travel nurse Yowana Woods who’s been working from Montgomery to Northport, sometimes packing up for work with just minutes notice; and Angela Mast, who works at Children’s of Alabama caring for cancer and blood disorder patients, who’s also been holding fundraisers, and selling items at auction, to donate those proceeds to first-responders at other area hospitals. Their stories are still available on Hudson Poole’s Facebook page.

Voting jockeyed back and forth between the candidates, but at the cutoff, Smith pulled ahead.

“They call her the child whisperer,” Poole said. “Every person who comes into contact with her loves her.”

While flattered by the attention, Smith hasn’t let it affect her sense of humor.

“I’m just fabulous, let’s say that,” she said, laughing.

Her nomination explained that since the COVID-19 outbreak began, ”... Lynda never ceased feeding the kids that depended on food from her school. Day one she showed up to prepare, hand out and deliver food to the children in our community, risking her own health due to underlying health issues that put her at a higher risk for COVID. Lynda never missed a beat from day one. Not just working one or two days here and there but every day and then moving to other job-related responsibilities.”

Smith has been working with Englewood since the early ’90s. On an ordinary day, Smith would go in around 5:30 or 6 to get breakfast prepared. Then she’d work on salads and fruits, setting up the line for lunchtime. Everyone pitches in to make sure kids get fed, she said.

During these extraordinary days, when students can’t yet come back to schools and lunchrooms, the Tuscaloosa County School System has set buses rolling, from which folks such as Smith deliver easy-to-prepare meals and gallons of milk.

“It’s really fun to see the kids, even with this COVID thing, while we’re out on the bus,” Smith said. “You’ll see them smiling, and they’ll scream and holler ‘Miss Lynda!,’ or whomever on the bus they know.”

Though Englewood only goes up through fifth grade, the buses are traveling through neighborhoods where they’re feeding kids as young as four. Smith’s bus rolls from Hillcrest Middle School, on the south side of town, through Bear Creek and Country Ridge trailer parks, and Branscomb and Chestnut Trace apartments.

“Today we did 160” meals, she said, which the county’s buying pre-packaged. “That way kids can just throw it in the microwave.”

Smith didn’t even think she knew 500 people, much less 1,900.

“It was a blessing just to be nominated, but to win it? My goodness,” she said. “I’m just an old lunchroom lady, but evidently I’ve touched some lives.”

She’s looking forward to dining out with her two daughters, one of them a fourth-grade teacher at Englewood, to show off her prize.

“I’d never owned anything that expensive. (Hudson Poole) even brought me (paperwork) to take to the insurance company. I don’t think I’ll wear ’em to the grocery store,” she said, laughing.

For copyright information, check with the distributor of this item, The Tuscaloosa News.

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