By: Haley Jones
Andra Cunningham received a warm welcome from Memorial Health System (MHS) on March 1, 2023 as the new Manager for the Food and Nutrition Services (FANS) Department.
Recently, MHS has made some organizational changes, keeping patients at the forefront of every decision being made. One of those decisions was to bring back a Certified Manager to oversee the FANS Department. For the last few years, Dietitian, Marcy Newcomer, has been dividing her responsibilities between overseeing the FANS Department, and providing patient care; more specifically to those who live with diabetes. Hiring Andra will allow Marcy to focus more on patients, and direct her attention to diabetes education.
Andra comes to MHS with over 20 years of experience in the food service industry. She has worked in several different sectors such as health care, long term care, camps and conference centers, concert venues and sports arenas; gaining all the skills it takes to cater to a large population of people. She also spent three years as a sales rep for Sysco, a corporation that markets and distributes food products to a variety of businesses. More recently, she maintained a role as the Director of Dining Services for Chartwells at the Clay County School District. “I have learned a lot over the years, and I am grateful for the different kinds of things I have experienced,” said Andra. “There are two things I love most about food service, the food and the people.” She said she has always loved to cook and knew she wanted a degree that would allow her to do something with that. In fact, it was one of her first assignments after she went back to school as a non-traditional student, to interview a dietitian. After doing so, she was offered a job as weekend food service supervisor at Geary Community Hospital. “It was that first exposure to commercial food service that I fell in love with a large kitchen, large equipment, and large food quantities.” She changed her major from dietetics to food science and industry so she could learn more about what happens to food as it is cooked, cooled, and processed. She eventually earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Food Science and Industry with a minor in business.
The food service work environment demands a strong team. There is so much work that goes into feeding large groups of people, and it can’t be done by one person alone. Andra loves this part of her job as well. She said, “there’s just nothing like working toward a shared goal and everyone pushing the Buick uphill together.”
Although not from Abilene, Andra loves this town. She was born and raised in Kansas City, Kansas and over the years she found herself moving further and further west; living in Lawrence and then Wakefield. In 2002 she finally found herself in Abilene. Interestingly enough, she hasn’t worked in Abilene yet. She said after commuting all these years to Salina, Junction City, Manhattan, and Clay Center, it was important to find work in her own community for a change. “I haven’t lived and worked in the same town since 1995,” she said. When the position for FANS Manager became available, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to be able to do just that.
Andra is married to Shaun Cunningham, who not only works in the food service industry as well, but is also part of the MHS family. He is a cook at Village Manor. He went to culinary school and even owned his own restaurant at one time. With both of them under the same roof, it is no surprise to hear her say, “food is really good at our house!” They each brought a son and a daughter to the marriage, making a wonderful blended family that has grown to include three granddaughters. They have a fourth grandchild on the way, and one furry family member; Willow, their Siamese cat.
In her free time, Andra and her husband like to cook together and spend time with family. Every year they have a vegetable garden and enjoy home canning. If she can get away for a fun day trip she likes to visit different places in Kansas, and even further if time allows. You may find her at an auction or antique store once in a while too!
Working in the food industry has allowed Andra to meet and work with some exceptional people over the years; she finds herself lucky to call some of them her life-long friends. She explained that she has had some once in a lifetime experiences thanks to her career. From an interviewer’s perspective, and having only known her briefly, I feel comfortable saying that Andra is a wonderful person, and she will be a valuable team member to have at MHS.