On a recent Friday, the Helen Keller Middle School’s cafeteria was running smoothly with hungry students standing in two separate lines waiting to get their food. Tater tots and French toast sticks were on the menu.

It has has not always been like that due to the disruptions caused by COVID. During the pandemic HKMS Principal Dr. Steven Clapp was worried that there would not be enough cafeteria workers to feed the school’s students.

“It’s very important for the kids and their mental health that they can get their food quickly,” said Clapp.

Dave Kennedy, the director of Chartwells School Dining Services, which oversees the cafeteria staff for Easton, Redding, Region 9 schools, said the most important part of his job is making sure that the students are fed great food by listening to what they want and offering them different varieties of food.

Lorraine Lozada serves lunch at HKMS

“We follow the trend sets that are going on in traditional restaurants,” said Kennedy. “Like Chipotle or a Panera, we try to put that in for our students because it is something they know.”

Kennedy also loves seeing the students grow from kindergarteners to high school students. “It is nice to be able to see them go through the different schools,” he said.

Student in the lunch line at HKMS

Having a fully staffed kitchen allows students to get the most out of their thirty-minute lunch break, Clapp said.

“They know they are going to have an equal opportunity to get up there and still get a break. So they can get outside or socialize with their friends and not have to worry about nutrition too,” he said.

The school’s lunch servers Lorraine Lozada, Shanoaha Carr and Nancy Botho say they enjoy getting to know their students and watching them grow. They all agree that the best part of the job is the students.

“I really enjoy working with the kids,” said Bothos, who has been working in the HKMS’s cafeteria since 2019. “I love all the personalities.”

Clapp knows that students develop a strong connection to the HKMS teachers, administrators and staff, including the members of the cafeteria staff, who become another trusted adult in their lives.

Chartwells is always looking to add more talented individuals to its dining services team. Perks of the job include family-friendly schedules, no night or weekend work and other hiring incentives. If you are interested, visit www.altogethergreat.com for more information.

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