On a normal day in Albemarle County Public Schools, our cafeteria staff can expect to serve lunch to around 6,000 students. For the school year, that’s more than one million school lunches served in an academic year! And during the pandemic, the demand has only increased.
Last year, as schools around the nation closed buildings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for school lunches increased. And our cafeteria workers stepped up in a big way. While many students and employees stayed home and switched to virtual learning or teleworking, our cafeteria staff continued to come into school buildings to prepare breakfast and lunch for students.
“We have such a spectacular team here at ACPS,” Christina Pitsenberger, Director of Child Nutrition, said. “Even in uncertain times, they were in schools making sure meals were ready to hand off to families.”
She describes a team that came together to plan the logistics of ensuring that every student received a nutritious meal, even at home. Within days, there were plans for meal pickups and deliveries that accounted for COVID-19, as well as food safety.
And when Christina’s team needs help, she’s not one to shy away from jumping onto the serving line or in a kitchen to lend a hand as the department faces staffing shortages. She said she loves being able to interact with the staff and students alike and getting to know what’s going on in each school. Working directly with each location deepens her appreciation for the work that goes on there.
“It gets hot in there with all the ovens going, and adding a mask on top of that really makes you appreciate the stamina of our people,” she said.
That wasn’t the only roadblock our staff faced, either. Eighteen months into the pandemic, our staff works through staff and supply chain shortages to produce meals. It takes a lot of teamwork, Christina said. Some solutions required transferring food from one school to another, or pivoting to a new meal for the day if they run out of items on the menu.
But at the end of the day, she said, the work they do is all for the kids. Cafeteria workers and managers do all they can to ensure that kids are getting healthy meals, but also meals that they will enjoy eating. They make sure to take time to ask the kids what they want to eat and do their best to include it in the menu.
“We want them to have a good meal that they’re also going to enjoy,” she said.
All of this is what makes our staff spectacular.
“There’s a lot of behind the scenes work,” Christina said. “Our staff is extraordinary, people who care about making sure our kids have nutritious meals every school day. They’ve really stepped up to the plate to make it work with a smile.”
“We can’t appreciate them enough,” Christina said. “We want them to know that their hard work doesn’t go unnoticed.”