‘Roll’ models: Staff members share their experiences in the cafeteria


Seiya Mutreja

Cafeteria workers Danielle Roeder, Melody Rutherford, and Jamie Cepeda share their experiences working in the school cafeteria.

Dayna Ung and Seiya Mutreja

After entering the school from the nearly pitch black outdoors, she flicked on the lights to the cafeteria and began preheating the ovens. Pulling out the food from the freezer for today’s meals, she started prepping each station.

Cafeteria staff members Danielle Roeder, Melody Rutherford, and Jamie Cepeda work long hours to ensure food ends up on our plates. Roeder said she loves cooking for the students here and finds joy in her work here.

“I’m Sicilian, and in Germany we feed people; that’s what we do,” Roeder said. “And then my degree is in education, so to be able to work at a school and still have a flexible schedule, I mean, that’s all my passions wrapped into one. And you must love it because it is hard. Y’all are like our children. I feel like we’re the moms at the school.”

Along with caregiving, many of the staff members said they enjoy the flexibility the school schedule has to offer. Having a fast pace allows for an exciting work day and something new each day.

“I love the schedule,” Cepeda said. “The fast pace makes the day go a lot faster. I’m constantly running around, and it’s a good workout.”

Despite having lots of fun working in the cafeteria, some staff members arrive at the school as early as five in the morning to begin preparations for the school day. All of them also work to keep up with feeding students both breakfast and lunch.

“I get here at five in the morning,” Rutherford said. “I get all the ovens on and get the food out and start cooking all the breakfast for the school. Personally, I just love seeing all the kids and the staff and it’s just a fun place to be.”

The staff said that it is important to have a routine in running a cafeteria. After virtual school last year, they said the scheduling became more hectic due to changes in staff numbers.

“COVID didn’t change as much as you would think for us,” Roeder said. “Procedurally we always had to be super clean, wash our hands, change our gloves, and constantly disinfect. It changed our routine as we used to have 16 staff members, but now, we have six on a good day. We have to get a lot more done in a very small amount of time so we can get you guys your lunch on time.”

Although COVID has taken a toll on the number of staff working to feed our student population, the cafeteria ladies not only rush to make enough meals, but also have to calculate the best way to minimize waste.

“It’s not as much waste as you think,” Rutherford said. “For example, yesterday there might have been only two out of every hundred things we made that were wasted. When we fill out our records, it actually looks bad for us to have zero waste, because that means somebody might not have eaten.”

Food wastage always goes hand in hand with the trash that piles up. Keeping the cafeteria clean for the large student body can be difficult.

“We love when volunteers help wipe down tables and pick up trash,” Cepeda said. “It’s just nice when they say good morning and thank you to us and stuff.”

Every member of Vandegrift plays an important role in keeping the school functioning. The cafeteria staff emphasizes the importance of appreciating the work that everyone puts in.

“At the end of the day. I think we all want the same thing,” Rutherford said. “We just want to be noticed. We’re here too.”