LABELLE -- School cafeteria workers have always been essential workers, but in 2020 the local food service employees that prepare and serve meals to Hendry County School District’s students, have proven just how important their jobs are. Working through a deadly pandemic, to ensure students have access to healthy meals, has been no easy feat.
Hendry Sodexo’s food service employees are determined to get nutritious meals, that also taste good, to every student in Hendry County, regardless of how they are attending school.
Many changes have had to be made, since the pandemic started. Changes in required personal protective equipment, the overall budget, how meals are prepared, and how they’re distributed have all made things somewhat more difficult. But these workers have soldiered on, individually preparing and distributing meals in containers, instead of the usual buffet-style way of serving school lunches, and even hauling meals to the parking lot, for students who have chosen the virtual or online pathway for school.
Parents of students, waiting in their cars, in the school parking lot have been grateful for this option.
“Unlike learning, my kid’s can’t eat virtually. The pandemic has really made our income suffer, without this meal pick up option, I don’t know what we would do,” said one mother of three, while waiting to pick up meals from LaBelle Middle School.
Teachers and staff have also noted, despite the challenges, Hendry Sodexo employees always work to give a little extra. “They are all always so cheerful, greeting the students by name, and some have been there long enough that they’ve memorized what each student likes and dislikes,” said one Hendry County elementary school teacher. “The kids get to know them, and they develop quite a bond. Our Sodexo workers are so focused on doing a good job for their kids. It’s really nice to see a lot of the same, familiar faces year after year.”
The U.S. Department of Labor's Chief Evaluation Office, sponsored aJanuary 2020 survey to collect information on employee tenure. According to the survey, “Average length of employment for school food service workers was 4.3 years for men, and 3.9 years for women. This data remained unchanged from the median reported in the January 2018 survey.”
While longevity isn’t the norm, for this career path, some of Hendry Sodexo’s employees have revealed above average tenure. Recently, Hendry County Sodexo General Manager, Erwin Evans, proudly announced that several employees reached a big milestone this month.
“Employees, Judy Oatsvall, Jamie Otero, Rolando Llize, Rocisela Lopez, and Cartia Kennedy recently recently celebrated their 5 year anniversary with the company,” said Evans, in early March.
Often under-appreciated, while working behind the scenes, food service workers are vital. They’re trained to be vigilant about kitchen safety, food-handling safety, and sanitation while feeding their students. They also must learn to be efficient with food preparation, and have to have excellent customer service skills, all traits that seem to be quite common amongst the Hendry Sodexo team.