A Life: Corinna Marie Magalhaes; ‘I just want to make sure everyone eats’

  • Corinna Magalhaes, Bradford Elementary School food service director, with her children Cassidy Mason and Storm Budzyn. Magalhaes, who died of a pulmonary embolism on Oct. 20, 2021, at the age of 47, was hailed as a hero for her work to feed children through the COVID-19 pandemic. (Family photograph) Family photograph

  • Corinna Magalhaes, Bradford Elementary School food service director, works on orders for the next meal bag delivery this past summer at a desk at the school. (Family photograph) Family photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/28/2021 9:57:25 PM
Modified: 11/28/2021 9:56:57 PM

BRADFORD, Vt. — For students in Bradford, Corinna Magalhaes’ name might bring to mind the scent of fresh cinnamon buns or the flavor of corn chowder made using her recipe with vegetables grown in Bradford Elementary School’s garden.

But many families in the Bradford area might not even realize how she worked selflessly, day in and day out, getting meals to children as the school’s food service director for the better part of the past two decades.

“She wanted no particular credit, but was first to give credit to all who helped with this immense undertaking,” said Emilie Knisely, superintendent of the Orange East Supervisory Union, in a message to the community following Magalhaes’ sudden death of a pulmonary embolism on Oct. 20 at the age of 47. “She was just a remarkable person.”

Magalhaes was the driving force in producing thousands of meals to feed children in the northern part of the Upper Valley amid the COVID-19 pandemic. She did so while maintaining her good humor.

“She would often say to me, ‘I just want to make sure everyone eats!’ ” Knisely recalled in her message.

Magalhaes had a strong work ethic, putting in long hours amid the pandemic and even as she single-parented her two children, Cassidy Mason, 17, and Storm Budzyn, 11. She did the work with kindness and good cheer.

“It was totally worth it staying late with her at work. It was always fun, even though we were tired, we always had something to laugh about,” said Tiffany Henry, a kitchen assistant who considered Magalhaes her best friend.

The two would sometimes work until 2 a.m. putting together menus and making lists.

“But it was totally worth it,” Henry said of their hard work. “She would take tally every day of kids who come in for lunch and she would always be happy to see the kids enjoying their meals that she had prepared for.”

Magalhaes was born to Fred and Beth Budzyn on Sept. 17, 1974. She grew up in Braintree, Vt. with one sister, three years her elder. Their parents ran a slaughterhouse and the two girls spent time surrounded by animals, said her sister Melissa Sumner.

As a teenager, Magalhaes attended the culinary program at the Randolph Technical Career Center. After Sumner had surgery, her sister would bring her soup.

“She was always cooking food for people,” Sumner said.

Magalhaes wasn’t shy to correct Sumner in the kitchen, such as when she was holding the wrong knife the wrong way while chopping vegetables. Magalhaes took Sumner’s 24-year-old son, Kolton, under her wing so that “now he yells at me too,” Sumner said.

Magalhaes was working for the Aloha Foundation in Fairlee when she became pregnant with Mason more than 17 years ago, Sumner said. It was at that point, Sumner said, that Magalhaes sought a school-based job that would give her “mom hours” on the school calendar, with holidays off.

“She might have loved cooking but she loved her kids so much more,” Sumner said. “They were her everything.”

Sometimes the two loves would intersect.

“My brother likes to cook a lot,” Mason said of 11-year-old Storm.

Magalhaes taught Storm to sear a steak with rosemary and thyme in the mode of Gordon Ramsay, the British chef and television personality. She also enjoyed baking cakes.

“Steak and cake,” Mason said of Magalhaes’ favorite foods to prepare. And “anything with cheese.”

Mason said she likes the precision of baking, but her mother preferred cooking because it “didn’t have direction” and “gave her the ability to be creative.”

Over the years in Bradford, Sumner said Magalhaes spent more and more time on administrative tasks. She sought out farm-to-table grants to serve her “passion” for keeping it healthy, Sumner said.

Magalhaes “didn’t want rolls store-bought for the kids,” she said.

She also sought to make sure all children had enough to eat.

“I remember her crying talking about children (who) put two carrots in Saran wrap to take home,” Sumner said. “That was why she did the things she did.”

Bruce Williams, who retired in June after serving as interim assistant superintendent at OESU, said he first came to know Magalhaes through her work on a coordinated health team in Bradford. Then, during the pandemic, Williams watched Magalhaes navigate a “sea change.”

Amid the pandemic, the federal government extended a summer food program that allows all children to receive meals for free and provides a higher reimbursement rate to school districts, Williams said. That change offers school programs the chance to expand and improve the quality at the same time, Williams said.

Still, it took a lot of coordination to make the change happen and get the meals to kids who needed them.

“That’s where Corinna came in,” Williams said. “She was always there. I don’t even know how many hours she put in.”

In 2020, when the pandemic first hit and schools closed for in-person learning, Magalhaes not only oversaw the production of meals for children in Bradford, as well as Thetford and Newbury, but she also coordinated with the bus company and volunteers to deliver the meals.

“And did it cheerfully with a hearty laugh,” Williams said.

Because Magalhaes was “one of a kind” and because of her work ethic, which had her doing the work of two people, Jimmy Burns, Bradford Elementary’s chef, said, “It’s going to be hard to replace her.”

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.

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