An Inside Scoop of the Cafeteria During Covid

What the cafeteria and cleaning staff do to prepare while juggling pandemic concerns

Zachary Cook, Journalism Student Reporter

Everyday around 11 o’clock lines of hungry students stretch for what seems like miles waiting for a delicious meal. Smells of marinara sauce and citrus waft down the halls almost begging any bystanders to take a visit, but what students tend to take for granted is the hard work that is put into making this food for thousands.

What students don’t see is the behind the scenes of the lunchroom, especially during the pandemic. Cafeteria workers not only have shining faces for all four periods of lunch, but also from the time they arrive at College Park to the time they leave.

“There are usually around 10 of us in this kitchen but because of a lot of absences we have nine team members right now. We’re all about seven hour workers so we put a lot of time into preparing the food everyday,” kitchen manager Melissa Valdiviez said.

Most of the kitchen staff arrives around 7 a.m. to begin cooking for the day. According to the School Nutrition Association, the combined lunch periods challenge school nutrition professionals as they work to serve hundreds of students in a matter of minutes and ensure students have adequate time to enjoy their meals.

“The most time consuming dish is probably cheeseburgers. We served those today and they took a while to put together. Sub sandwiches and chicken sandwiches are also pretty time consuming,” food service worker Nicole Cook said.

Even though the staff mentions that their main reason for working is to earn a living and pay the bills, they also find ways to have fun throughout the process. They say that during the time of the pandemic connection in the workforce is more vital then ever.

“We just love being around people and communicating. We share a lot of laughter and just like being here for all of the students. They’re all good kids,” food service worker Charity Milo said.

Another group of hardworking individuals in our cafeteria are the custodians. They are in charge of disinfecting the tables and making sure the area stays clean and tidy. Without their contribution, the lunchroom would look as if a tornado has hit it by the end of D lunch.

“We do a lot of teamwork here. The teachers and all of the staff are very connected and we all are very friendly with eachother,” custodian Orfilia Fonseca said.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, dynamics within the school cafeteria have changed a lot. With every new health protocol changes are needed to be made in order to ensure the safety of the students. The custodian team has played a vital role in keeping the area covid-safe.

“I have noticed that asking the kids to sit a couple from feet away from eachother for social distancing has been a struggle,” Fonseca said. “When it first happened we had to add more tables and take more time cleaning than we normally would when we should have been working on our other tasks.”

The strict rules not only apply to the front of house workers in the cafeteria, but also to the kitchen in the back. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, staff must wear masks at all times, maximize physical distancing, and constantly sanitize all surfaces.

“Trying to social distance has been quite a challenge. It looks like a big kitchen but it gets really small when we all start working, so staying out of eachother’s space has become an obstacle,” Valvidiez said.

Valvidiez says that luckily last year’s covid rules were a lot harder on them than this year’s and that the rules are starting to ease up. Overall the kitchen staff says that the environment is very positive and that they love seeing all of the students grow.

“If I had one thing to tell students it would be to pursue your dreams. Always make sure to never give up,” Milo said.