Serving the community

What are cafeteria workers doing now that school has gone online?

Graphic by Cate Roser ’21/Staff

As COVID-19 continues to affect society, LM students began school online. But with no students present to buy lunch, what is happening to the cafeteria workers? First, it appears that LMSD cafeteria workers are keeping busy and maintaining a safe environment by following recommended safety procedures, such as washing hands, wearing masks, and wearing gloves routinely. Recently, the district announced its free Student Meal Pickup Program. Although most students were not at school since March, teachers and special needs students still received lunch provided by the cafeteria faculty. Those who are eligible can preorder their lunch through The cafeteria staff is currently working in four schools, including LM, Harriton High School, Welsh Valley Middle School, and Bala Cynwyd Middle School.

In an interview with Mary-Anne Castellente, the Cynwyd Elementary cafeteria manager, she made clear that everyone is working normal hours and that she “feels it is a safe environment,” adding that the “kitchens are big enough to spread out to prepare the food.” Karen Castaneda, the Director of Nutritional Services at LM, explained that initially, when the cafeteria faculty returned to work, they took everyone’s temperatures. If they ran higher than 100.4°F, which is considered a fever by the CDC, they were sent home. However, procedures have since changed, and workers are no longer required to have their temperatures taken. Of course, they still must wear gloves, wash hands, wear masks, and social distance. Castaneda said that the cafeteria staff is very fortunate, as no one from the staff has tested positive for COVID-19, although some staff may have been quarantined from being in contact with someone who has tested positive. Additionally, many of the cafeteria staff had to take leaves of absence in order to take care of their children at home.

Before the Student Meal Pickup Program began, the cafeteria staff prepared meals and distributed them at Suburban Square, which, at the time, was relatively empty. Castaneda said that it made her day when students would pick up their meals. Seeing students in person and how thankful they were made her feel like she was giving back and helping the community. Castaneda said that she is most excited to see students in person once we return to school. She also described the modifications of policies and procedures that the cafeteria staff has taken to remain flexible. Castaneda expressed that going to work helps her feel a sense of normalcy despite the instability caused by the pandemic. She describes this new way of working as a challenge but not particularly harder than prior to March 12, LMSD’s last day of in-person learning before schools were shut down due to the virus. Castaneda remains unsure about the future procedures involving the return of students in the latest hybrid scenario, but is willing and ready to be flexible to meet the needs of the school community.

There were many exciting initiatives within LM’s cafeteria that were preparing to launch before school closed, such as a coffee program working with special needs students and their teachers to sell coffee to staff members. Also, there were several green initiatives planned, including replacing plastic water bottles with reusable ones. The water bottles were able to have a logo on them, which prompted the cafeteria staff to plan an art competition to choose the best design. With school phasing back into in-person instruction, they will hopefully implement these new ideas. If all goes well, someday they will be able to return to all of their amazing projects.

Numerous students at our high school, such as freshman Taylor Axelrod, are “thankful to have these hard working individuals in the district and appreciate all of the cafeteria staff’s assistance to continue to provide students with meals.”

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