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More than meets the eye with lunch ladies at CKHS

Barbra Berend, left, and Lisa DeGross, center, along with a co-worker at the CKHS cafe, are the school’s lunch ladies. - Deon Dibley
Barbra Berend, left, and Lisa DeGross, center, along with a co-worker at the CKHS cafe, are the school’s lunch ladies.
— image credit: Deon Dibley

From motorcycle groups to living in Spain, there is more to the lunch ladies in Central Kitsap High School’s kitchen than what students see.

Lunch ladies Lisa DeGross and Barbra Berend crush the idea of cliché cafeteria workers that kids in elementary school feared. The women always have joyful faces and sweet smiles. And kids quickly learn they aren’t mean with big moles on their cheeks.

“We have a bad reputation,” Berend said.

Observing the women during the typical lunchtime at CK High School was fairly quiet. DeGross and Berend, who have worked together for years, aren’t like the cafeteria workers you see on TV. They don’t even wear hairnets.

“We got rid of those!” DeGross said.

The first ten minutes of each lunch were hectic, everyone hustling around and the women getting everything in order. After 20 minutes though, in came what the ladies called, “stragglers” who “straggled” into line for one slice of pizza, and an occasional apple juice or scoop of salad that managed to creep onto their plate.

There were three different lines in which the kids could pay: two mainstream lines and one for special education students.

“When’s your next game?,” Berend asked a student as she called him by name.

The two women have worked at numerous schools during their lunch careers, so what made them stay at CK for so long?

“The kids are friendly, mature and polite,” Berend and DeGross agreed of the students at CK.

The women serve chicken burgers, pizza, sandwiches and chicken nuggets every day, but on certain days there are specials like cherry blossom chicken and rice, chicken fajitas and chili. So, are all of the meals precooked and simply slipped into an oven to be warmed?

“We used to cook from scratch and with our own recipes,” DeGross said, “but there are a lot of regulations that don’t allow us to do that anymore.”

Around three years ago, these regulations were enforced they said.

“It took the creativity out of it, but we are here to support (the school),” DeGross said.

At one point during the lunch hour, pizza — the majority choice — was gone. It was obvious that this didn’t happen often, and DeGross was upset.

“It’s your lunch, you need to enjoy it,” she said, “I don’t like making them wait.”

Both DeGross and Berend explained that they were stay-at-home mothers. But when their children started school, they wanted a job that fit with the kids’ schedules.

Before working in schools, DeGross worked in the restaurant business. Berend worked in commercial baking, but has been in the CK High kitchen for the majority of the 31 years that she has lived in Silverdale.

Berend was born in Chicago, met her husband there, and became a Navy wife, traveling the country to support her husband and ended up here. DeGross was also a Navy wife who grew up in Enumclaw and traveled, at one point living in Spain for three and a half years.

“My daughter was born in Spain,” she said.

The women love sharing their stories and all the amazing adventures they’ve been on. Most kids who see them every day during lunch have no idea about how interesting their lives have been.

“We have some kids that we strike up a friendship with,” Berend said, when asked if she tries to make conversation with students.

“We may be the only friendly face students see” DeGross said. “That’s part of why we do our job.”

Work, however, is definitely not all that there is to these women. DeGross belongs to a motorcycle riding group.

“I’ve just always loved doing it,” DeGross said. “When I’m not in my apron, I’m in my leather.”

She also goes on mission trips to Mexico for a company she partners with that teaches about nutrition.

“I would love to end up in Africa,” she said. “I believe that people need to be educated about nutrition, and I’ve just always been called to do this.”

Both ladies agreed that one of the most difficult parts of their job is seeing kids not eating lunch because of its cost.

“We wish that food could be free to everyone — that would be ideal,” Berend said.

As for their favorite part of the job, DeGross said, “The smiles and ‘thank yous’ and overall, just interaction with the kids.”

 

By talking to these women I realized that everyone has a story. So, fellow students, take time to talk to them. You never know what adventures they have to share. — Deon Dibley

 

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