Food service workers will be honored

May 12, 1997


Staff Writer

After nearly two decades on the lunch line at the Emma K. Doub Elementary School cafeteria, Mary Hamilton finds herself running into a lot of now-grown boys and girls who remember when "Miss Mary" helped feed them.

Getting to know the students has been the best part of the job, said Hamilton, 63, who started out serving lunches at the school 18 years ago.

Fourteen years of ringing up student meals the old way has made it hard for Hamilton to get used to the computerized card check-out system put in this year at county elementary schools, she said.


But it will be even harder to get used to life without her students, said Hamilton, who plans to retire after this year.

"They get on my nerves sometimes, but I'm going to miss the kids," she said. "I really love kids."

You have to be fond of children and hard work to last in a school cafeteria, said Sharon Walker, one of two area managers in the Washington County Board of Education's Office of Food and Nutrition Services.

In addition to what the students see, cafeteria employees are responsible for a lot of tiring behind-the-scenes work - like washing dishes, cleaning up and heavy lifting, said Walker, who oversees menu planning and half of the 43 school cafeterias.

Then there are all the people working in the 13 "base kitchens," most of which prepare food for their own and other school cafeterias, she said.

About 1,000 breakfasts and 8,000 lunches are served on the average school day, Walker said.

That's not counting a la carte business at the middle and high schools, which continues to grow, she said.

The self-funded Office of Food and Nutrition Services employs about 200 people, most of whom get very little recognition for the important role they play in the education system, Walker said.

That's why it's so important that the school system observe School Food and Nutrition Services Personnel Day on Wednesday, she said.

"There's nobody in food service that sloughs off," Walker said. "I don't think they have enough appreciation. I don't think anybody realizes how hard they work."

For about 15 years - since her school started offering breakfast - Hamilton has been responsible for breakfast and working the cash register at lunchtime.

The busy work day goes fast, said Hamilton, whose job includes reminding kids to take everything they're entitled to.

Each reminder is punctuated with a term of endearment. "Go back and get your soup, honey," she said to a little girl recently.

Hamilton's longevity in her job is typical of many of the school system's roughly 150 food service assistants, the majority of whom work two or three hours a day, Walker said.

The eight food service employees at South Hagerstown High School have put a total of 157 years into school food service, said kitchen manager Susie Place.

Place has been working with her assistant manager/cook Pearl Maloy for 12 years.

The two start the day at about 6:15 a.m., said Maloy, 57, who said she loves cooking good food for the students.

"Pearl's Lasagna," and the vegetable and bean soups are favorites with the kids, she said.

Before coming to South Hagerstown High School, Maloy did prep work in the E. Russell Hicks Middle School kitchen, worked as assistant manager at Smithsburg High School and a baker at Boonsboro Middle School.

Place started 27 years ago in the dish room at North Hagerstown High School.

"I was only going to do it temporarily," said Place, 52, who took the two-hour-a-day job to help out while her husband recovered from an operation. "But I liked the children; it was nice working with them. And all the women who work in the kitchen are nice, like a family. I enjoy coming to work."

After a few years, Place got an almost full-time job preparing food at Fountaindale Elementary School, where her children went to school.

When the school closed its kitchen, she took a job as a baker at Western Heights Middle School.

She came from there to manage the kitchen at South Hagerstown High, where she graduated from in 1962.

Like Place, many food service workers start out in the dish room then work their way into other positions, Walker said.

Many are mothers drawn to the short hours and same days off as their kids, she said.

Almost all are women, Walker said.

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