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Employees in Food Service Provide More Than a Meal

Employees in Food Service Provide More Than a Meal
SDCOE JCCS Food Services Team Jerry Smith, Aurora Perez, and Lucero Diaz-Kennon wearing masks

Distributing food to students is an important service our schools provide and the individuals who deliver that food offer a friendly face and a consistent presence — and represent more to some than just a meal.

“We get to hear the stories, maybe why they are having a bad day, and hear some things that not everyone is so lucky to hear about,” said Lucero Diaz-Kennon, food service program assistant for Juvenile Court and Community Schools (JCCS). “Because of that, we have created a very good rapport with our students. It’s the human side of the profession.”

The SDCOE Food Services team serves students at JCCS, Monarch School, and Cuyamaca Outdoor School. The JCCS team includes six field assistants and three subs, plus Diaz-Kennon and Supervisor Jerry Smith, who deliver vended food to all JCCS sites.

Some of the field assistants have been delivering to the same school for years so they are familiar to students and staff alike. We honor them all during School Nutrition Employees Week May 1-5 and on National School Lunch Hero Day on May 5.

“They put their hearts into the profession, and they are appreciated by the students and staff,” Diaz-Kennon said, adding that when she subs for a field assistant, the students start asking when they’ll be back.

“The connection we make with the students is one of the best parts of the job. It’s very special.”

At camp, nine staff members prepare food from scratch for hundreds of students each week, including as many as 50 to 60 with dietary restrictions.

This was the first year back at full capacity for camp since the pandemic. With changes in protocols, staffing, and supply chain issues, food service has been more challenging than in past years.

“I try to express to my team that we’ve been put through extraordinary circumstances,” said Kimberly McAlexander, child nutrition supervisor at the outdoor school. “I say to my staff, ‘I can’t thank you enough,’ and I’m grateful for the team that I have because it requires a lot of problem solving, teamwork, and thinking outside the box.”

With breakfast, lunch, and dinner served at camp, the team often prepares about 1,500 meals per day. When you add the more than 1,000 students at JCCS and Monarch School, as well as several child care centers, SDCOE is helping to serve food to thousands of students across the county each day. And this summer, SDCOE will add two more to its list: North County Academy and Friendship School.

Jerry Smith, food and nutrition supervisor for JCCS, has helped manage the growth in service over the past several years and makes sure SDCOE complies with the many state and federal rules and regulations around food service.

The Food Services team was instrumental in getting food to students and families during the pandemic and providing leadership for districts across the county. After the pandemic, that collaboration continues.

“The pandemic forced some creative solutions out of us, but it also led to collaboration for good, and I’m happy to have this team as partners in food service,” McAlexander said.

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