Food for the Soul
An Interview with April Corris, Cafeteria Manager at Discovery Key Elementary
I teach first grade at Discovery Key Elementary (located on Lake Worth and Lyons Road in Palm Beach County). Being a teacher for me is not just a career but more of a commitment. I have taught at my school for 18 years! No matter what has gone on in my life, my school has always been a safe haven for me and they have always treated me like “family”. Our Principal, Dr. Catherine Lewis and Assistant Principal, Nicole Black have made the teachers feel needed and welcome, including our Cafeteria staff.
I will confess, I took all of the above for granted. I mean, the kids eat lunch, and that’s it? Right? Wrong. Wrong. Wrong! It wasn’t until I was teaching during the heart of the quarantine that I truly realized that the cafeteria staff are our “unsung heroes”. They fed children five days a week and made sure food was available during the direst circumstances. They never stopped doing their job!
With just 14 days short of the school year ending , “the birth” of this article took place and what a perfect way to end things…on sweet note.
The real “lunch mama”
Meet April Corris , our blue-haired “lunch mama” and Cafeteria Manager and you will know a person that values children and treats them like her own. Prior to the interview, I took one of April’s business cards and it states her name, position and the words “core values”. Under it rests the epitome of who April is: Passion, Quality and Respect. Working for the School District of Palm Beach County is not just a job for April, she likes to think of herself as the “lunch mama”. Let’s begin our interview inside of the cafeteria without the students.
AW: What is your position at Discovery Key ?
AC: I am the Cafeteria manger and in charge of 7 people. But I like to think of myself as a “mother” or “lunch mama” when the kids are away from their families.
AW: What do you like most about your job? What do you find most challenging?
AC: I love my students. I don’t get to be the “cool teacher,” but I do get to interact with the kids on a daily basis when they come through the lunch line or when I am wiping down tables. As for something challenging, I would probably say getting students to eat healthy things like vegetables. So, I have made an incentive by giving praise or stickers and making them try exotic “weird stuff” like Yucca and Guava. I have expanded their taste buds. I make sure that everyone gets a taste of these flavors even if I have to make it into a game.
AW: What do people tend to downplay about your job that you feel is extremely important?
AC: Definitely the connection that the lunch ladies can have with the students when they are being seen for such a short period of time. I have and continue to tell the lunch ladies that it is all about how we treat these kids. I try to learn their names and details about them that were important to their lives. For example, a little girl told me about her new puppy and then another boy told me about his loose tooth. I keep it in my memory so we can continue the interaction when we meet again. When I am done serving and I wipe down the tables they say to me, “Hello to the lady with the blue hair” and I am touched by this gesture.
AW: How has the pandemic affected your job and relationship with the students?
Can you give me a positive and a negative?
AC: I get to be more one on one with the students because of social distancing and that I see as a positive. On the negative side, I don’t know when my kids lose their teeth and I cannot follow simple but important parts of their lives. We are with them every day, practically watching them grow up. It is also very sad not to be able to give high fives or hugs to the kids – there is no physical contact and the kids miss that as much as I do.
AW: What changes do you anticipate for the food management industry?
AC: I want to go back to a normal life and want us to see each other’s faces, especially the smiles – that would be great.
AW: Tell me what a typical day is like for you.
AC: I come in at about 7:15am after the two girls set up breakfast for the students. I get the breakfast cart ready. The students aren’t able to touch anything because of the virus, so the breakfast is no longer hot – only cold breakfast. Then, I prep for the day because we also serve a charter school in our area – breakfast and bag lunches. Later, I serve lunch on the line. Last, I clean up and let the ladies go home. Right before leaving I complete my paperwork.
AW: What is something that people would be surprised to know about you?
AC: Let’s see…I have a 19-year-old daughter and an addiction to sparkles. I like that I wake up every morning – people take that for granted. I am a very positive person. I feel like it could always be worse in any situation. I mean, we have 14 more days, right?
AW: Are you a good cook? Do you have any favorite things to cook?
AC: (April laughs for a good minute or so) NOT AT ALL….I am a soup queen though. I make my own soup. (I reaffirm that is “cooking”). I just throw stuff into a pot and call it soup. I have no recipes at home because I follow recipes all day at work.
AW: What made you go into the food industry?
AC: I was hired in 2012, I didn’t know anything about the industry. I wanted to try it. I had a great manager from another school who trained me and had a lot of confidence in me. She told me that I would “be good at being a manager”.
AW: What are some crazy questions that people have asked you about your job…well, not MY “crazy questions…
A.C: .Okay…here’s a few…”How many Ziplock bags have you closed?” In response, I would say millions. Each box has 500 and we go through two or more. I mean Ziplocs are used for EVERYTHING…even snacks…The other questions would be : “How many pounds of vegetables do we cook a year…I don’t know the answer to that one…it is definitely too much to count!
AW: Please share one or two memorable experiences you’ve had with the job.
AC: A little girl once said to me, “I wish you were my mommy”. I replied, “I am your school mommy”. Every year I get attached to the kids. A boy used to give me leaves and weeds every day. Yes, this really happened. He wanted to share something with me so I took them. When the kids know your name, it is a special feeling. I am not the
“cool teacher.” I am just a lunch lady but some of the kids, they make me feel like a …Rock star.
AW: If you had to fill in the rest of this sentence what would you put: I find working in the cafeteria ________________
A.C: I find working in the cafeteria good for me…therapeutic. I mean, even when I am having the worst possible day a student will be excited to see me and it makes it all better.
The Final Course
You know what, April Corris? You ARE a “Rockstar”- to the school, to the staff and to hundreds of children in our school. I celebrate you and your accomplishments. In my book you are definitely a “hero”. The next time I bring my kids to lunch, I won’t just think, “they are getting lunch,” but I will remember that they are spending time with their “lunch mama”.