The Silent Suffering of Cafeteria Workers
September 9, 2020
Shannon Spear’s family had just finished dinner when the phone rang. It was a Friday night in March, and Spear’s school district was calling to announce that her daughter’s high school was moving to remote learning. This was no surprise: Like other parents whose children attend the Contoocook Valley schools in New Hampshire, Spear had received dozens of emails from the district preparing families for the change. Earlier that day, teachers had even reminded Spear’s daughter to make sure that her school-issued Chromebook and charger were in her backpack before the final bell rang.
Spear didn’t notice when her phone vibrated a second time, alerting her to a call from her boss at Fresh Picks Cafe, which serves school cafeterias in Contoocook Valley. Her daughter was going to stay home for the rest of the school year. But, like other cafeteria workers across the country, Spear still had to show up to work the next week.
Spear spent the next couple of months working at the same school that the district had deemed too dangerous for her daughter to attend. She helped bag hundreds of lunches a day, bringing them to color-coded school buses that would make the trek to the nine rural towns her district covered. As unemployment rates rose, so did the number of families signing up to receive free meals. On the first day of remote learning, Spear helped make just under 400 lunches; by the end of the month, she and her colleagues were making nearly 900 each day.