Lunch Ladies:

Labor of Love

-By Zohra Nacer-

The Aurora Public Schools Nutrition Service Department has taken great pride in being able to provide meals for students

““Doing this makes me feel like I’m serving the community,”

“All of them are heroes to me”

At Dartmouth Elementary School, on a typical day before the pandemic, children are served lunch or eat a sack lunch from home.  They all sit alongside the tables in the school’s cafeteria and enjoy their meals.  Everything has changed with the pandemic and the cafeteria is eerily quiet and no longer sheltering the loud little crowd.

 It all started in March 2020. Aurora Public Schools started offering free breakfast and lunch to all students 18 and under. With the federal funding extensions, the Aurora Public School Foundation, and generous donations from the community, APS has announced that they will continue to serve free meals to all kids under the age of 18.  The ‘Grab and Go’ program has launched and hundreds of families are receiving nutritious meals every day.

APS has 47 locations for the drive through Grab & Go.  Dartmouth Elementary school in Meadowood is one of these locations.

“The Aurora Public Schools Nutrition Service Department has taken great pride in being able to provide meals for students. They want to ensure that students, whether they are in school or not, are able to eat their favorite nutritious meals”. Nutrition Services Coordinator Robert Doran said.

As you drive through the parking lot, you are greeted by these special lunch ladies: Laurie, Cheryl and Carla behind their aprons and cute smiley masks, serving walk-in students or parents driving through.  They have been risking their lives this school year by serving students. There are many unsung heroes during this pandemic and these lunch ladies are certainly among them.

“Doing this makes me feel like I’m serving the community,” said Carla who has kids of her own in Aurora’s schools. “We are doing something good in these challenging times.” Continued Cheryl. “Kids don’t learn if they are hungry,” said Laurie.

“All of them are heroes to me,” says Robert, The Nutrition Services Coordinator. “They have been here in the heat, in the snow, in the sun, serving meals outside to students and their families. They have been here every day and are truly our superheroes.” He added.

They serve between 50 to 150 meals a day for walk-ins.  “Kids who come here live in the neighborhood and a lot of them don’t go to Dartmouth.  They are students learning online and don’t live close to their home school” explained Laurie.

The cafeteria ladies report to work every day.  They are working hard figuring out ways to serve these meals to students. They have different menus and varying amounts of packaging. Individual bagging or prepping of things so they are in sealed containers is not an easy task. “It is definitely more work but the end result of serving kids is worth all of the effort,” said Robert.

“I would hate to see any child go hungry,” said Laurie.  “We don’t refuse any kid who comes to us to grab a meal” continued Carla.

These ladies are outside every school day from 10:45 to 11:30 before going inside the school to serve the pickup lunch for the students.

The menu posted on the APS Nutrition Services website informs families about the menu choices so they can easily make their selections. “Pizza day, Taco, and Chick-Filet day are the most popular and favorite students’ meals” shared Laurie. “We plan ahead of time for the weekend or holidays” she continued. The “Big Friday Bag” is offered every Friday with additional weekend meals.  Each day, breakfast, lunch and a supper snack are packed, so students get three meals a day from the Grab & Go locations.

For a lot of families who are familiar with this location, they appreciate the excellent customer service. “I don’t need to tell them that I prefer chocolate milk than regular.  They just know and pack it for me” said Nesseem, High School student from William Smith.   They do remember allergies, preferences, and even the number of meals the parent is picking up.

Their ability to continue to do this on a daily basis has not gone unnoticed and has been tremendously appreciated. The power of a simple meal goes a long way in a pandemic, especially if served with care and love.

“I would hate to see any child go hungry*

“We don’t refuse any kid who comes to us to grab a meal”