Interviewee: Jacqueline Clements
Interviewer: Melba Hollingsworth
Date: January 29, 2009
Location: Archdiocese of New Orleans, New Orleans, Louisiana
Description: Jacqueline Clements holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Home Economics and a Master’s in Administration and Supervision. She taught Home Economics for eighteen years before transferring to school food service. Jacqueline then worked as a Food Service Director for an additional seventeen years.
Melba Hollingsworth: We are here January 29, 2009 with Jackie Clements from the Saint Charles Parish and a former Foodservice Director. We are located today at the New Orleans Arch Diocese in New Orleans, Louisiana. Jackie would you tell me a little about yourself and where you grew up?
Jacqueline Clements: I grew up in a small town in central Louisiana, Ville Platte, Louisiana which is in Evangeline Parish. I’m married. I have two grown children.
MH: Well what is your earliest recollection of child nutrition programs? Did you have school lunch, your favorite menu…?
JC: I can remember school lunch. I can remember walking to the cafeteria because it was away from the school buildings.
MH: In Ville Platte…
JC: In Ville Platte. And this was at a catholic school, Sacred Heart Catholic School. I can remember walking there, from the school buildings to there. Then when I was in about the fifth grade through the seventh grade I went to the public school. What I remember there was that we could buy a school lunch ticket for a dollar, and this was for the entire month.
MH: Oh my gosh!
JC: And whenever we would eat they would punch it for that day. As far as the meals the one thing I really remember was eating the bread. That was the thing that really stuck with me and the cool milk. As far as the main items, I really can’t remember that. Probably spaghetti but to say that I remember anything…that’s about it.
MH: Tell me about your educational background. What schools did you attend and what degrees did you earn?
JC: Well like I said I finished high school at Sacred Heart High School and then I went to USL. I got my B.S. degree there.
MH: USL is…?
JC: It’s in Lafayette. It’s now UL.
MH: Oh now it’s UL. University of Lafayette.
JC: But it was USL. I got my degree in Home Economics and I had a Science minor. Then I received my Master’s Degree from Nicholls in Administration and Supervision.
MH: And Nicholls is in…?
MH: Thibodaux. So how did you become involved in this child nutrition profession? And tell me some mentors along the way.
JC: Well I was teaching Home Economics. And the reason why I got into Home Economics was because I was in 4-H. I always enjoyed the sewing and the food preparation and stuff. So that’s why I did major in Home Economics was because I enjoyed these things. Teaching Home Economics was kind of in the same field as food services. Being a teacher, I always participated in the school lunch. I was one of their regular customers. Everyday there was always something that I liked. I might not have preferred everything, but there was always something on the menu that I enjoyed. It was just a good atmosphere, I thought. When Ms. Haley was retiring they had asked if I would be interested in her position. At first I said no. I thought I would just teach and then retire from teaching. Then I started thinking, well you want to do something else when you finish so maybe it’s worth looking into to. So I did and she was very, very helpful. I felt like it was a natural thing to evolve from Home Economics education into food services, and that’s how I got into it.
MH: How long were you a teacher?
JC: I was a teacher for 18 years.
MH: 18 years before you became a foodservice director?
JC: Right. And I was Food Service Director for 17 years.
MH: Oh my gosh.
JC: So I was there a while.
MH: So you kind of just fell into it. Well, can you remember some other mentors along the way?
JC: I do have to say Ms. Benoir, Virginia Benoir, who was working as Ms. Haley’s assistant really, really helped me when I first started. She really led me along the way by the things that Ms. Haley used to do. She was very helpful.
MH: Would you tell us a little bit more about the position that you held?
JC: Oh, gosh. Being the Director, I did most of the reports for the state.
JC: I did have a bookkeeper, but I did the reports. I just felt like I needed to know what was going on. That was one of my main concerns.
MH: Tell me how big was the parish at that time.
JC: We had probably about 10,000 students. I’m not quite sure. It’s been a while since I have been retired so I’m not sure, but I think around 10,000 students. We had 19 schools, I think, at the time I retired.
MH: Were the majority of the children eating?
JC: Probably about sixty percent if I remember right. That’s what I want to say. I’m not too sure.
MH: So tell me then about your job. Because that kind of gives you an idea about how many people you’re feeding…so you took care of the reports.
JC: I took care of the reports, but we did the menu planning, we took care of the free-and-reduced applications, and I had a lot to do with that because whoever was doing them, I had to make sure they were doing them correctly. When we first started we would have to go into the schools because the principals were the ones doing the applications. So we had to spend a lot of time in the schools making sure these were correct because if they weren’t, when state came and did the review, if these were done incorrectly we had to pay the consequences. So that was one of our main concerns at the beginning of school, to make sure these were done correctly. Over the years when we brought in the computers, then this was done in the office. So a lot of times we were doing everything. You still had the same time requirements, but you were doing the work that the principals had been doing. This put a lot more work on us at the beginning of school, which you know is a very hectic time. I’m trying to think what all we…you know the bids, the ordering, the purchasing…We had to do a lot as far as supervising the cafeteria managers. We had to make sure that they were doing the right things also. I did have an assistant, Ms. Benoir, at the beginning, and then two other ladies after that. We were trying to do things and making sure that everything was done correctly.
MH: Do you remember how many employees you had?
JC: I had about 110.
MH: Employees? Wow. Do you think your educational background helped you?
JC: Oh yes. I was not a Registered Dietitian. I was not a dietitian. So it was very important that I had the educational background that I did in Home Economics because of the nutrition part. I thought that that was very helpful.
MH: How was doing the accounting? Did you have to do the accounting?
JC: I had an accountant that was working for me…well actually she was a bookkeeper but she did accounting work. We worked together on different things like the budgets and stuff.
MH: That must have been helpful.
JC: It was. It was.
MH: Do you find that there is something unique about the Louisiana program in regards to child nutrition programs?
JC: Well, I think if I remember right, I think Louisiana was the first state that had the school lunch or the free lunch. I think it was the school lunch, period. I think that because Louisiana is economically kind of low on the totem pole I think that it was very important that we had good lunches for the children in the state. And I think that’s why we had such a good support system. You know the principals, the superintendent, and on down. It was because of that. In Saint Charles Parish we didn’t have a very high number of free and reduced, and it was kind of difficult financially. It really was, because of that. Because of well you know the reimbursements that you would get and what you would charge for the meal really wouldn’t cover it. It just wouldn’t do it. If you had a well-off parish, a financially stable parish, the school foodservice system hurt. Whereas, if you had a poor parish you would get much more reimbursements and more money.
MH: You really had to market didn’t you?
JC: Yes, it was very difficult. It really was.
MH: Did you find the administration very supportive in that?
JC: I found, especially when I first started, that it was very, very supportive. And it seemed like toward the end everybody was looking for the money, the extra bucks for different things. When I first started in ’83 in foodservice, that’s when we had a lot of cuts in reimbursements. The federal government…I think a year or two after I was there the state stopped giving us reimbursements completely. And then when I started in ’83 our parish was going through financial times. So they cut back what they had been giving to the foodservice department completely. So I was without that supplement from the parish to carry me through. Luckily Ms. Haley had always had some money in the past because of this extra money. So she was keeping up with all the equipment and everything. So we were able to keep going with the equipment that we had. I had a very good repair man, maintenance man. We kept things running so we would have to purchase as little equipment as possible to try and make ends meet.
MH: So what was a typical day when you were there?
JC: There really wasn’t a typical day. There were times of the month where reports were due…visiting the schools…you would try and do everything. It was more like seasons. When I would say I was working twelve months people would say, ‘What do you do in the summer?’ Well that’s when all the bids are coming in that you sent out in the spring. That’s when you prepare all of the reports that have to go out when school starts. When school starts in the fall that’s when you do all the free-and-reduced applications and that goes into the verification. After Christmas it seems like you’re on a down swing, but you’re working on new bids for new products that you are coming out with for the menus and it’s just continuously snowballing. It just never stops. That’s one thing I can say, you are never, ever bored. If you were, there was something wrong or something wasn’t getting done, because that’s what was so nice about it.
MH: Do you recall some of the kids’ favorite foods?
JC: Oh, they all loved pizza. They did. They really did. It was amazing. We had a test one time at one of the schools. We had the cafeteria technicians prepare their pizza, and we had two other purchased pizzas come in and they did the food test. It was amazing because they chose the one that the cafeteria ladies had prepared.
MH: Oh really? It was a cook off.
JC: Yes, it’s funny, but I guess that’s what they were used to at the time. But as the parish grew the kids became more sophisticated. We were one of the wealthier parishes so a lot of the kids got used to eating out and then their tastes changed through the years. When we first started with food tests that was one of the ones that really just stuck in my mind. It amazed all of us that they liked [the scratch pizza.]
MH: So what were some of the biggest challenges you faced?
JC: Well like I said, financially, that was always a problem. We were always trying to economize as much as we could and always trying to make things work out. Another thing that was very challenging was when we started with computers, technology. Not only did we have to learn it, but we also had to teach it to all of the cafeteria managers and all of the technicians. It wasn’t just the cafeteria manager that used it. We had to have the ladies on the lines collecting know what to do. It became very involved, and I was awake many nights wondering how I was going to get all this done. It was a big challenge, a very big challenge. We started off with collection on the lines; we had scanners with the card. We had to prepare all of these cards because it wasn’t a product that was out there. We had to design it ourselves and work with it. Later on we got to where we had the picture IDs. We had pictures put on them also, which meant the kids had to come in early to have their pictures taken so they could be ready the first day of school. It wasn’t something you could wait on. We did all of the free-and-reduced applications on the computer. We did the bids and the purchasing. We did the inventory in the schools. We did the state and federal reports. We also coordinated it with the attendance reports in the schools to make sure that we weren’t counting…to make sure someone wasn’t using someone else’s card if they were absent that day…It worked well. I think now if I’m not mistaken…I’m not sure but I think that the cards that are being used now are used for attendance, their ID to get in, school lunch, the library…
MH: They streamlined…
JC: Yea, and we were the first ones to do it. Even some of the secretaries weren’t online at that time. They weren’t using computers in the schools yet. So we were first.
MH: Now if you would take their computer away I’m sure they would not be happy.
JC: No. It does help them a lot.
MH: So what changes have you seen over the years?
JC: Well like I said technology for one. When I first started in foodservices we had the hot line, and at the two high schools we had a sandwich line. When I left we had those two; we also had a salad bar. We also had a pizza line, and we also had an outside line at the two high schools where they could go out…
MH: A food court.
JC: Yes. We worked with industrial art students and teachers. They built benches and everything and fixed up an area outside where the kids could go. The school population was growing but the dining halls weren’t growing. So the time that they had to eat lunch and the space they had to eat lunch in the high schools…it was overflowing. So that helped a lot, having this outside area. Plus it gave them a break from being inside the building.
MH: What do you think has been your biggest contribution to the profession?
JC: Well, Saint Charles Parish was one of four sites in the United States that took part in the CATCH Program. That was the Child Adolescent Trial for Cardiovascular Health. It was a stem-off from the Bogalusa Heart Study. We had two schools in the parish that took part in this for the first three years in the pilot program where we did a lot of, not so much menu changes, but preparation changes. We would try and reduce the fats and reduce the amount of sodium…and like I said just the way of preparing it. We incorporated whole wheat into the bread products. There was a lot of trial and error and a lot of other things involved besides just school lunch. It also included the PE Program, besides; they had different things that they would come in and do with the students. We had to work really well with the principals and the teachers that were involved because it was taking away some of their time to teach what they had to teach for the “Tests” that were going on. I think it was a very important study, and it was good because we had a lot of good things that came out of it.
MH: A lot of things to put into practice…now that was Nichols, wasn’t it?
JC: No…I think it started out with either LSU and then switched over to Tulane or vice versa. I forgot exactly which way it went.
MH: Do you have any memorable stories that come to mind with children or…?
JC: Well, one thing I wanted to talk about…I did want to point out that we had one of our technicians who was involved with the schools involved in the CATCH Program…She did a project for the Louise Sublette Award. The second year she ended up winning the award, and that’s the highest award that the association gives. I think she was the first technician that ever won that award, and I don’t know if any technician has ever won that award since.
MH: Can you recall her name?
JC: Joella Louvette.
MH: Do you remember what she did?
JC: She just documented everything that she was doing in the cafeteria to try and make these things come about. The things they were doing like skinning the chicken and whipping the butter and all these things to reduce the fats and stuff. But it’s a very involved thing.
MH: Oh very much so…wonderful. Anything else that comes to mind?
JC: I had written down a bunch of things, but I have forgotten them now. I do want to say that the first time that I ever went to Washington, D.C. was for the Legislative Action Conference. That was very, very enlightening, and then I got to go another time when I was a chairperson for the legislative committee. Just to be able to visit with the senators and give them my own opinion about certain things and to ask them to help us and just to be able to see the whole process in action I thought was very, very good. To me the camaraderie too in the foodservice…among all the technicians, all the managers, all the food service directors…It’s something that you don’t always see. Sometimes people are always trying to outdo others, and it just seemed like everybody just works together. I just thought it was a wonderful thing.
MH: What advice would give someone who thinks that they want to go into this field today?
JC: Go for it. I will be honest with you. I was always afraid. I could teach, but I would never be able to do anything else. Then I said well, I can try and if it doesn’t work out I can always go back into education. I think I have to say I got as much or more pleasure or satisfaction out of being in foodservices than I did teaching. That’s just the way it felt. What we were doing for kids was helping them be more able to get a better education. I guess become physically better off.
MH: It’s just as important.
JC: Oh yes. I think so.
MH: Well Jackie, thank you. Thank you for coming.