Feeding Young Minds One Meal at a Time

Living Paycheck-to-Paycheck is a Way of Life

Deborah Hamilton remembers the exact day she started working as a Custodian at LAUSD: January 11, 1995. A lot has changed since that day 27 years ago.  The biggest difference, she says, is the drastic reduction in staff. “When I first started, I was in a crew of nine workers. Now, it’s only two and a half Custodians at my school.”

Feeding Young Minds One Meal at a Time

“My passion is these kids. I prepare, cook, and serve foods as well as handle cleaning and other kitchen-related tasks so that they have a good decent meal,” says Elizabeth Hernandez, a Food Service Worker with the Los Angeles Unified School District. She started her career with the district twelve years ago, after volunteering at her children’s elementary school for over a year.

She knows that school lunches are a crucial part of the school system and understands the meals she serves have a daily impact on the well-being of students both inside and outside of school. “They’re so happy when they get their meal, I love seeing their smiles, their gratitude for us, it’s important we serve meals that will make them come back or eat more,” says Elizabeth. “I go above and beyond for them because that’s what they deserve, it all starts in their stomach, and sometimes, these are the only meals these children get.”

While Elizabeth loves the work she does, she wishes her crew of four at Christopher Dena Elementary had more time to complete their daily tasks. “We feel like we’re constantly rushing. I am here between 6:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. every day. As soon as I clock in, we get working to get breakfast ready. As soon as breakfast is done, we get started on the next assignment,” she says.

Six and a half hours to prepare their work areas, restock service stations, prepare, and serve food and drinks is extremely hard on the workers, especially because it’s a constant cycle of food distribution.

In fact, the pressure to get things done in so little time caused Elizabeth to get injured at work. A power plug hit her on top of her head, causing a concussion and resulting in her being out of work for two months. “It was raining, and they had us pushing all these items and equipment out to the hallway. When it happened, I remember being dizzy and not myself,” says Elizabeth.

Being rushed can distract your attention from hazards you would normally recognize, and it still frustrates Elizabeth that the whole thing could have been avoided if she had more time. “It’s only fair that the district gives us more hours because there is no time in six and a half. We’re probably serving about 1,000 meals every day and they’re adding new menu items, which equals more food to prep, with no additional time. It’s exhausting. There are times we don’t even get breaks and we have to literally run to the restroom and run right back,” says Elizabeth.

More hours are not the only thing she hopes for at her worksite, she says kitchen supplies are desperately needed. “We need serving trays, serving utensils, food containers, lids, parchment paper, foil, and saran wrap in order to make the food we serve presentable for the kids.”

Elizabeth believes having the necessary tools to complete her tasks will not only make her job less stressful but also benefit the students. “It affects the children because the presentation of the food doesn’t look very appealing to them when we’re having to use a food boat instead of a container, so they might not want to eat it and our job is to feed these children.”

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