Photo by Nissa Wilcox

Students can grab lunch from three locations this school year, the main rotunda, the Pony Market, and the main lunch line. At least one cafeteria worker looks over each location to help students and count meals.

Cafeteria worker’s daily schedule

It is 6 a.m., very few cars are parked in the Stillwater Area High School parking lot, one of these cars belongs to the SAHS kitchen manager, Amy Richardson. As Amy heads in to begin preparing breakfast for roughly 50-60 students, depending on the day, at this time, it is only Amy and the breakfast cook in the kitchen.

A typical COVID-19 workday

Kitchen staff in SAHS work long shifts typically from 6 a.m. to 1:45 p.m., preparing and serving meals to students, although hidden by a mask this year, the staff serves students with a smile, whether they learn from home or hybrid.

“We start preparing breakfast at 6:00 a.m. and serve in 3 locations starting at 7:20 a.m., After finishing cleaning, we are done for the day at 1:45 p.m.,” Kitchen Manager Amy Richardson said.

The clock strikes 7:20 a.m., the first period starts in 20 minutes, the staff wheel out prepared carts of breakfast to arriving students in three locations, the main rotunda, the Pony Market, and by the bus doors. Multiple breakfast cart locations have helped SAHS to deliver as many breakfasts to students as possible. Although the school has been at less than half capacity this year due to the hybrid schedule, free breakfasts and lunches for students through USDA’s Free Meals for Students program have helped keep up the need for school meals.

This year, only 25 percent of students are in Stillwater district buildings every day, so for the most part, the number of students receiving a meal has been down from past years. However, “if we run the school nutrition program instead of the Summer Feeding Program, which is the program that we get the waivers for that allows us to serve free meals. Our numbers would be a lot fewer if people paid for them. So, if we were in school as normal, I do think our numbers would go up. I think they are easily twice as much as they would be if we were on the school nutrition program,” Kelley Linquist, director of nutrition services, said. 

After breakfast is served, cafeteria staff begin to prepare weekly bag lunches at 8 a.m. for hybrid and online students looking to take home a free meal. Around 10 a.m. staff begin to finish making bagged lunches for students and shift to preparing hot lunches for in-person students.

Richardson starts preparing breakfast at 6:00 a.m. and serves in the pony market, the rotunda, and the back bus doors starting at 7:20 a.m.  After breakfast has finished, she starts preparing weekly bag lunches at 8:00 a.m., and prepares the food all week long, then assembles the bags on Friday’s.  On Fridays Richardson and other staff distribute prepared lunches to any students 1-18 years old, adapting the number of meals to how many school days there will be. Around about 10:00 a.m. they begin to transition from making Fridays meals to preparing hot lunch for the hybrid students. 

At 12:20 p.m., the bell rings dismissing students to either go to lunch or go home, regardless of whether a student is staying for office hours or going home, anyone is eligible for a free lunch. After over two hours of preparation, the staff serves students lunch either from the main rotunda on their way out or through one of the two cafeteria lines.

On Fridays we distribute prepared lunches to any students 1-18 years old, adapting the number of meals to how many school days we will have. Around about 10:00 we begin to transition from making Fridays meals to preparing hot lunch for the hybrid students.”

— Amy Richardson

“The high school has a third of our population of our entire district and now that they are releasing the kids before lunch, really hurts the number of lunches distributed. So, we have been trying to come up with ways to capture those kids as they are running out the door. One of these ways has been through different carts for breakfast and lunch,” Linquist said. 

COVID-19 has led to precautions taken when serving lunch as well. This year, students have been given barcode cards to track their meals rather than use a pin pad, reducing a popular touchpoint. Most food is prepackaged as well to reduce students from touching some of the same items or grabbing items and putting them back after touching. Throughout the cafeteria, social distance signs have been placed along walls and on the floor to protect both students and staff. 

Linquist said this year, everything that isn’t prepackaged is being served. No salad bars or self serve stations, the Pony Market has been serving mostly pre-packaged meals so students can grab and go. The fruits and veggies are prepackaged fruits and veggies so students can grab it themselves. If it is not prepackaged then an employee is serving it for the kids so there are no tongs or anything else that would be a high touchpoint. Bar code cards keep the students from touching pin pads. So they can scan, eliminating a high touchpoint area. Social distancing in line so there are markers on the floors, that way students are staying six feet apart. 

A week in the life

Monday through Thursday staff work to deliver meals to in-person hybrid students, although on Fridays, no students are in school. On Fridays staff distribute meals to students for days they are not in school, between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., meals are distributed for students. Students, parents, or grandparents can pick up meals on Fridays. Hybrid A and B students receive between three and five meals for the week and online C students typically receive five meals, depending on what the school week looks like.

“In this current model, we are doing distribution out to schools every Friday. Brookview and Stillwater high school from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. parents, students, or grandparents, can come and pick up a distance-learning bag. If you’re full distance you would receive five meals depending on how many scheduled school days there are, for example, this Friday we will be distributing meals for next week. They receive five breakfasts and five lunches for the week. And then we ask if they’re hybrid A or hybrid B because sometimes the days are different, usually, they would receive three days worth of meals but say there’s a non-school day, then we would adjust according to that,” Linquist said. 

At 1:15 p.m., students dismiss from the cafeteria and head to their fifth-hour classes for office hours. At this time, the staff begins to clean and sanitize, finishing up from a long day and begin to head home. On a typical day, this process is completed by 1:45 p.m.

“We clean the whole kitchen which includes all the serving lines, prep tables, lunch tables, which are now desks for social distancing, and dishes.  We also have to count or weigh all the leftover food to account for how much we used that day.  I then enter all those numbers into the computer for tracking,” Richardson said 

At 1:45 p.m., desks and dishes shine clean, prep tables are cleaned and sanitized, and serving lines are put away for the day. At this time, staff grab their belongings and can head home, leaving a clean cafeteria behind to return to the next day. Although it has been a long day, it has also been yet another rewarding day, many SAHS students went home on a full stomach, and have the opportunity to enjoy more of the school’s meals by visiting staff on Fridays to receive three to five days worth of meals.

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