Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
FAIRFIELD — Cooks in the Fairfield Community School District will be honored for their hard work Friday when the district celebrates “School Lunch Hero Day.”
“They have gone so far above and beyond this past year,” said the district’s Food Service Director Stephanie Hawkins.
Hawkins said the cooks have had to do much more this year than they’ve ever had to do before, juggling new ways of delivering food to the students during the pandemic.
For instance, elementary students are receiving their meals in sealed trays because some students eat in a classroom instead of the cafeteria.
Some students have opted to take their classes online, so the district’s cooks prepare a week’s worth of meals for those students to take home every Monday.
The district started the school year in a hybrid mode where half the students were taking classes online and the other half were in their school building.
Fairfield Middle School cooks said that during that time they had to prepare food for four separate lunch periods instead of the normal two, as the district tried to limit the number of students who were eating lunch together.
Fairfield Middle School cook Beth Swafford said it meant there was little time in between lunch periods to get ready for the next one.
Cook Shawna Lox said that, “It’s hopping for those two hours we’re serving lunch.”
Plus the four-lunch schedule meant that the last lunch was later in the day than usual, which pushed back the time the cooks could start cleaning up. The cooks took on more cleaning responsibilities, too, such as mopping the floors and cleaning the bathroom, which the custodians used to do.
“That was done to keep people out of the kitchen,” Swafford said.
After the dishes are done and the floors are cleaned, the cooks wrap silverware for the next day. At the middle school, this means 300 sets of silverware.
Things slowly have gotten back to normal as the school year has progressed. At the beginning of the year, Swafford said the students received their food in sealed containers. Now middle school students are back to using trays, and the food is no longer sealed, though some precautions are still in place.
For instance, the students still don’t serve themselves, to avoid having everyone touch the same serving spoons, and there’s no longer a salad bar. Instead, the cooks at the middle school prepare salads in containers. They make about 100 salads per day.
The cooks said students are glad to be eating off trays again instead of eating the sealed meals. The sealed meals were more work for the cooks, since it involved packaging all the items and sometimes cutting them to fit in the containers.
Cook Cathy Wyckoff said it was hard to keep food crispy in the packaging, and it didn’t seem as fresh when the students opened it.
“It was not what we wanted to feed them,” Wyckoff said.
Lox said the number of students eating school lunches has risen since the middle school went back to using trays. She said the students are in better spirits in general now that they’re in class full-time.
Hawkins said high school students are not eating in the cafeteria, but instead preorder their meals through an online form where they get to select an entree and side dishes.
They print out their order, and when they get in the lunch line, they hand the order to the cooks. The students take their food back to their classroom to eat.
The high school also sells food from a cafe that offers “grab and go” items, cold-brew coffee, a slushy machine and breakfast food. Hawkins said the cafe opened last year and has been very popular with students.