Lunch ladies: the people that serve everyone in the school, whether it be students or even faculty members. Whenever people think of the word “cafeteria,” most people associate it with food. But who are the people behind the food and what is it like to be them? Three lunch ladies and a student tell their stories and their experiences.
Fully staffed, MJHS has a total of ten cafeteria workers. For most in the school, work starts at 8:15 a.m and ends at 2:15 p.m. However, Tasha Keller, the manager, comes in at 6 a.m to start work.
“I come in at about 6 a.m in the morning and get everything turned on. I start cooking breakfast at 6:15 a.m and it’s ready by 6:30 a.m… I’m the only one here until 7:45 a.m.”
Keller has been manager for two and a half years in Wilson county.
“I started in 2010 as a floor worker in a four hour position… I became manager two and a half years ago.”
Everyone is assigned different jobs, and cooking, preparing and serving are the main jobs. By 10 a.m the majority of the work is finished and everyone has a 30 minute lunch break. Everything is ready to go by the first lunch. While people are serving in the front, there are others in the back cooking more and more food. After all the lunches are served, everyone begins cleaning the kitchen immediately. Finally, everyone goes home at around 2:15 p.m.
While the days are usually short and quick, like any job, not everything is easy.
According to Bonnie Stroupe, the hardest thing to do is “putting out stock because it’s heavy.”
Another tough task that lunch ladies face is serving, especially when the food has more than one component.
Norma Clymer states the hardest meal to serve is “one that has a lot of components in it for the servers to serve. It takes longer for the children to get through the line and they might not have as much time to eat as the others.”
Keller, Stroupe and Clymer may all be lunch ladies, but they all took the job for different reasons.
“I had stayed home after my son was born and when he started Kindergarten, I felt that I needed to get back into the workforce. I was looking for something to do where I wouldn’t have a babysitter… my aunt suggested ‘Hey why don’t you apply to the cafeteria?’ I put in the application and they called me back,” Keller said.
On the other hand, Stroupe wanted to find a convenient job.
“A friend of mine worked here and I was looking for something to go with my schedule and my kids schedule.”
Clymer became bored after retiring and started looking for an easy job.
“I was a bookkeeper for about 40 years and then I retired. I stayed home one fall into the winter. I didn’t like it… I had a daughter-in-law that was working here, and she told me that they had an opening for the teacher’s aid job. It was already filled, but they said ‘we got something in the cafeteria.’... So I went and interviewed for it,”.
Keller, Stroupe and Clymer all admit that they want to work until they can’t, and they don’t see themselves going anywhere else.
“I’ll leave when I feel like I’m slowing them down, or something happens to my health,” Clymer said.
Being a lunch lady may not be the most important job in the world, but Keller, Stroupe and Clymer all believe that they are underappreciated for the hard work they do.
“I think they’ve kind of gotten a bad rap over the years with all the lunch lady land songs and things like that. I think we’re making good strides in the right direction, especially here in Tennessee,” Keller said.
“People look down on this job… you know, there’s a stigmatism about lunch ladies,” Stroupe stated.
While Keller and Stroupe think lunch ladies are greatly underappreciated, Clymer has a different opinion.
“I think right now they’re more appreciated than they’ve ever been…. It used to be a job where you don’t get paid very much and now the payscale has gone up, which helps to get a better qualified person into work.”
Lunch ladies may be underappreciated, but the respect for them is growing.
A Junior at MJHS said, “I think their job is important, they feed a lot of people and I think that’s really cool… They do a lot for the school… Somebody has to make lunches for the kids.”
Being a cafeteria worker may be stressful but it’s not because of the kids they serve. In fact, most of them love the kids.
Keller agreed, saying, “I love the kids, they’re the best. They’re very special.”
Stroupe thinks the kids are very polite.
“They always say please and thank you, they’re extremely well-mannered.”
When asked what’s the best part about being a lunch lady Clymer said, “The kids, yeah I get to know the kids.”
Working in the school cafeteria isn’t a throwaway job and Clymer wishes more women knew how good of a job it is.
“There are a lot of women out there that don’t realize what a good job this is… The summers are great off, you get home early, it’s a great job if you have children at home.”
Most importantly, Keller and Stroupe want people to know how rewarding this job is.
“We work hard to get them a meal every day. We want them to eat good and eat healthy… We try to do a good job feeding the kids good food,” Stroupe said.
“It’s a hard job but it’s rewarding. It’s not for everybody but we have a lot of fun, but we work hard… I don’t see myself going anywhere else! I like it here, I love my staff, love my kids, love my job,” Keller said.
Lunch ladies are as essential to the school as any other school worker. So next time you go get your food, make sure to say thank you. The smallest words can have the biggest impact.