On Wednesday, I donned a hair net and stood beside Belinda Ommert, head cook at Shawnee Elementary in Huron, as we waited for 68 children to arrive.
Earlier in the day, I helped prepare pizzas and cups of fruit, as well as cups of hot and cold vegetables. By the time the children started to roll in at 11:30 a.m., on the dot, the food was out and ready.
Ommert would place a slice of pizza on a tray, then hand it to me to add the vegetables.
“‘Do you want a hot or cold vegetable?’ I’d ask one child after another.
They all answered the question, but by the looks I was getting, I could tell they were wondering who this new lunch lady was.
One kid asked me if he had to have vegetables. “Yes, honey,” I said, handing him a tray.
We were a food assembly line, moving in a collective blur to avoid the wrath of hungry children who, truth be told, were all quite sweet.
Finally, the last child was served.
I was hot and a little tired. “I did it,” I said to the cheers of the ladies. “How did I do?” “Let’s put you on the sub list,” Sue Whitaker said.
The ladies then had about 20 minutes to get ready for a new group of kids arriving for lunch.
They serve 151 kids within 90 minutes. Because the school serves breakfast and lunch, the lunch ladies do this twice a day.
I was simply thankful to make it through one wave of lunch.
The lunch program is self-sustaining, making about 35 cents per meal after all is said and done. Each meal costs $2.40, although about 40 percent of the students at Shawnee Elementary are on free or reduced lunches.
Districtwide, about 30 percent of Huron Schools students receive free or reduced lunches.
No one goes hungry at Shawnee.
“We will get kids who say, ‘I’m really hungry. Mom says we ate breakfast and lunch, (so) I don’t get supper,’” Whitaker said. “The food they get here helps them make it through the day.”
For their part, the lunch ladies serve it all with a slice of love.