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May 9 school cafeteria story

May 09, 2001

Serving up smiles



Two cafeteria workers to retire after decades of service

By KEVIN CLAPP

kevinc@herald-mail.com

Wanda Whipp and students

Photos: KEVIN G. GILBERT

staff photographer

Above: Wanda Whipp, who has been a cafeteria worker for 31 years, shares a laugh with Boonsboro High School students, from left, Christy Gross, Sophie Aaronson and Heather Napoli.

Below: Agnes Jackson has worked in school cafeterias for 30 years.Agnes Jackson

Lunch prieces on the rise


Last week, the Washington County Board of Education voted to increase the price of school lunches and a la carte items.

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Beginning in the fall, school lunches for elementary students will cost $1.40. Middle and high school lunches will cost $1.65. Staff lunches will cost $2.85.

A la carte items will cost an additional 5 cents to 15 cents each.

The cost for breakfast will remain $1.



Boonsboro High School cafeteria, 9:06 a.m.:

The school's eight food service employees scurry around the room, weaving between countertops, coolers and cooking equipment to prepare lunch for hungry students.

continued

In white slacks and blue shirts, they ready pale blue trays for use. Baking trays covered with uncooked french fries and tater tots are neatly stacked, awaiting their time in an oven.

Outside, a patchwork of red and black milk crates are stacked six high.

Conducting this flurry of activity is Wanda Whipp, the 62-year-old cafeteria manager for the high school. With the county for 31 years, she has spent the last nine at Boonsboro High after beginning her career at Williamsport High School.

Like her counterpart at North Hagerstown High School, 30-year veteran Agnes Jackson, these are Whipp's final months feeding the hungry pupils of Washington County. Both are retiring in June.

"I'm going to miss the kids. ... They get personal with you, and if you're not here one day, they notice," Whipp says.

Today is Salute to School Food and Nutrition Service Personnel Day, honoring all the people who work to provide lunch for students and faculty at county schools. Boonsboro High serves an average of 325 to 350 meals per day. At North High, the number is 375.

More than 1.8 million meals, including breakfast, are served each year by the roughly 200 county food service employees. Gary Dodds, supervisor for food and nutrition services, says Jackson, Whipp and their co-workers play a valuable role in education by ensuring students are properly fueled for their time in the classroom.

And it's not as easy as slingin' mashed potatoes onto a tray.

"We have to merchandise the food these days. They have to make extra efforts in terms of merchandising and customer service," Dodds says. "It's always a problem when you lose veterans like Wanda and Agnes."

The job has changed a lot since the two women got started in the school system.The main difference is how much of the food they serve is mass-produced off-site. Not so 30 years ago.

"When I started in 1970, we made everything by scratch. Everything," Whipp says. "And now we get a lot of processed food that all we do is heat it up."

Back then, if the menu called for a turkey dinner, the staff cooked a whole turkey. Spaghetti sauce was made at the school.

Now menus are influenced by a fast-food culture. Students are used to going to a burger joint or taco place for a quick bite, and expect that in their school lunches.

Of the $6 million budget for food and nutrition services, Dodds says 30 percent is from a la carte sales, where students can mix and match food and pay by the item as opposed to buying a complete meal.

"I think the day of the meal is out. It used to be soup and sandwich, casserole or meatloaf. They don't want that anymore," says Jackson, 63. "You have to go with what the kids want because if you don't, you're not going to sell anything.

"I guess we didn't have tacos (in the past). We had baked potpies and meatloafs and things like that. Well, they want cheeseburgers, steak and cheese, things like that."

Whipp says the school's thick vegetable soup is another favorite.

Not that the fast-food mentality is harming the cafeteria's mission. To preserve nutritional values, items such as french fries and chicken nuggets are baked in an oven, not deep-fried.

And not all things have changed. When they started with the schools, homemade pizza was always a favorite.

"That was a busy day," Whipp says.

Please turn to CAFETERIA, C3

It's supplied to the schools now, but pizza remains a crowd-pleaser. Boonsboro High offers it almost every day.

North Hagerstown High School, 1:30 p.m.:

The final meal was served an hour ago, so Jackson and her staff - 11 when they are at full strength, which isn't the case now - are cleaning up.

Outside, chairs are being stacked, floors mopped and tables wheeled away. Inside the cafeteria, counters are being disinfected, dishes being washed.

In their white slacks and red shirts - emblazoned with the Food and Nutrition Services logo - the staff has reached the end of another week. Monday morning they will be back again, Jackson leading the way.

"I like what I'm doing. You have to like what you're doing," she says. "I like being around children. They keep you young."

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