A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Family members find their working niche serving students in Fayette County school cafeterias

By Tammy L. Lane
Special to KyForward

Altogether, Kelly Herriford and her parents have 25 years of experience in six cafeterias across Fayette County Public Schools.

But in a turnabout, it was the older couple who followed in their daughter’s footsteps.

After her own children got up a size, Kelly applied for a Child Nutrition position and started as a sub at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, where she’s now the cafeteria manager. When her mother, Karen Bruins, saw how Kelly enjoyed the job and realized the benefits of working in the school system, she decided to apply for an opening at Tates Creek High School.

In four-plus years, Mark Bruin has moved around from Southern Elementary, Bryan Station High School, James Lane Allen Elementary, and now Cardinal Valley Elementary. (Photo Provided)

“This was just a good opportunity. The hours and no weekends and no summers is a huge plus,” said Karen, who has worked the serving line, handled the deep fryers, and now wears the cook’s hat in her six-hour shift at Tates Creek.

Bruins’ husband, Mark, who likes to grill out in the backyard, probably never envisioned himself in a school cafeteria. For years he worked alongside his father in furniture sales and then drove a semi-trailer truck, but then health issues slowed him a bit.

“After I recovered, I needed something to do,” he recalled. So Mark joined his wife and daughter in food service, though he only works part-time.

In four-plus years, Mark has moved around from Southern Elementary, Bryan Station High School, James Lane Allen Elementary, and now Cardinal Valley Elementary. (Daughter Kelly mentioned how openings are posted in each kitchen and workers can readily transfer to a more convenient location.)

At Cardinal Valley, Mark does everything from dumping trays and washing dishes to serving the kids.

“It’s good people, and we all joke around with each other. You become like a small family,” he said. While his hearing isn’t what it used to be, he still offers up a friendly face for the children in line, adding, “I kind of shake my head and smile.”

Across town, his wife holds the ship steady at Tates Creek High, where she is responsible for preparing food for a variety of menus.

“I put it all down on paper and make a checklist,” said Karen, who likes juggling the numbers and filling out the production sheets. Working backstage in the kitchen most of the time, Karen doesn’t see much of the teenagers, but “we know what kids eat and what they like.”

Getting to know the students is one of the main reasons Kelly has logged a dozen years and counting at Dunbar, where she oversees nearly 20 staffers, the cafeteria’s stock, and kitchen orders. In a typical day, she splits her time between office tasks and fill-ins as needed, such as running the cash register at breakfast.

“I enjoy working the different areas and seeing a variety of students coming through the line,” Kelly said. “We can be one of their first interactions of the school day and try to get it started on a positive note.”

Oct. 9-13 is National School Lunch Week.

Tammy L. Lane is website editor for Fayette County Public Schools

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