Interviewee: Jane Jantz
Interviewer: Jeffrey Boyce
Date: October 12, 2007

Description: Like many others who have made child nutrition into a career, Jane Jantz came to the profession in a roundabout way. She and her husband moved from California to Mississippi, where farmland is more affordable. She planned to work one year to tide them over from a bad crop – that was nineteen years ago, and Jane loves serving the children more each year as manager of the Okolona Elementary School cafeteria.

Jeffrey Boyce: I’m Jeffrey Boyce. It’s October 12, 2007. I’m here at the Okolona Elementary School with the elementary school cafeteria manager Mrs. Jane Jantz. Welcome Mrs. Jantz.

Jane Jantz: Thank you.

JB: Thank you so for agreeing to share your story with me. Could you begin today by telling me a little bit about where you were born and where you grew up?

JJ: Sure. I was born in Modesto, California, and I grew up in Merced, California.

JB: A California girl?

JJ: Yes.

JB: What brought you to Mississippi?

JJ: Well, my husband wanted to farm and nothing would open up there, and we had some of our people here and they said that they could farm here, so he flew out here and he went to FHA and they said that if he could find ground that they would finance him. So that’s what we did. We moved here on faith and went broke farming. [laughter]

JB: I suppose the farm land was a lot more expensive in California than here?

JJ: Well, yes. We just rented the ground and then a small farmer it’s hard to even get started. As a matter of fact FHA gave us an application and said, “Fill it out and take it to your local FHA office.” And you know what? They laughed at us. They said this would never go through.

JB: Your application here or in California?

JJ: The application they gave us here. They told us to take it to the FHA there after we had it filled out. So we took that application and we sent it back to Houston, Mississippi, and we got a letter back from them saying that we were OK’d. So we sold our house and moved to Mississippi. And we haven’t been sorry since.

JB: Well we’re glad you came and I’m sure the children here in Okolona are glad you came. What about when you were going to school as a child, were there school lunch programs in your school?

JJ: Yes.

JB: So you’ve always had a school lunch then?

JJ: I think when I was in the sixth grade we were in a new school and they hadn’t built the cafeteria; then we had to bring our lunch. But other than that we always had nice cafeterias, very nice.

JB: Very nice, so you have positive memories of those early days. What were some of your favorite foods as a child going to school?

JJ: Probably spaghetti, fish nuggets or fish sticks, and fried chicken. And then when I got in high school they had this little window that was outside and they had tables set up. You could either buy a box with a hamburger lunch or a box with a hotdog lunch. Or if you wanted to you could go inside in the morning and they would make you a sack lunch. You could tell them just how to make your sandwich, just exactly what you wanted, what fruit – I don’t think they could of gave you a vegetable – but anyway they gave you a little deal and you took your sack lunch with you and you came back at lunchtime and they gave you milk.

JB: How nice.

JJ: You know, in California there were nice schools.

JB: I bet there were lots of good fresh fruits and vegetables in California too.

JJ: Yes.

JB: How did you get involved in the child nutrition profession?

JJ: Well, one year we didn’t make it farming so I thought, “Well, I will come and work for a year and then quit.”

JB: This was in Mississippi?

JJ: In Mississippi; after we moved here.

JB: So you only planned to come and work a year?

JJ: Yes.

JB: And how many years ago was that?

JJ: That was eighteen years; I’m on my nineteenth year. But anyway I enjoy my work. We have GOOD LADIES. That makes a lot of difference.

JB: Your staff you mean?

JJ: Yes, yes.

JB: What are the qualifications for being a manager? Did you have to do any special courses or trainings?

JJ: Yes. You have to have your high school education. Then they sent me to Jackson [the state capital] for a week and we took a manager course. And then every three years we go up to ICC [Itawamba Community College] and get recertified. It’s a six-week course, but just one evening a week.

JB: What kind of courses do you take at ICC?

JJ: One time we took “High Time for Low Fat”. This last time was how to handle situations in the cafeteria if something comes up with the ladies or teachers.

JB: So you have management skills as well as the nutrition training.

JJ: Right.

JB: What are some of the changes you’ve seen over those last eighteen years in the cafeteria?

JJ: The main one was we used to pre-plate. For example, if we had green beans we opened I’ll say 30 cans of green beans. If we had peaches it was the same thing. If we had spaghetti they got spaghetti, green beans, peaches, a piece of bread, and dessert, whether they liked it or not. And they had to pick up the milk. And when they told us they were going to go to Offer vs. Serve I just about cried, you know. We were going to have to fix three main dishes and two vegetables and two fruits.

JB: How has that worked out?

JJ: It’s wonderful.

JB: What changed your mind?

JJ: OK. Instead of opening 30 cans of green beans, now we open three to six cans – depends. If they don’t want green beans they don’t have to take green beans. If they don’t want peaches…usually we can open six cans of peaches and six cans of peaches will usually do, but they have another fruit too. They might have juice or they might have apples, so they’re getting two different fruits. But the waste, there’s not near the waste. Then on the main dish, we usually offer them a salad and then two cooked dishes.

JB: So it’s better all around. You don’t have the food waste, plus the children get to eat what they want?

JJ: Yes. If they don’t want milk they don’t have to pick up milk. The only thing – they have to pick up three components. Say they got a hamburger, that’s two because of the bread and meat. And if they want fries, that’s it. It’s a lot less waste. But sometimes there’s teachers that stand there and give them everything. Any you try to kind of explain to [the teachers] that children are supposed to be making their own choices. Sometimes the teachers will back away and sometimes they think you’re crazy, but it works.

JB: And how many meals do you serve a day?

JJ: Well, at breakfast we’ve been serving close to four hundred. At lunch we serve just a little over four hundred. With teachers it’s close to 450. And then we have a new program started last year. It’s like a Head Start program with four-year-olds, and we have twenty children in that, and then we have after-school snack with them.

JB: So you serve these four-year-olds three times then – breakfast, lunch, and a snack?

JJ: Yes. And until this year we were serving snacks to children after school on their after school tutoring, but this year they changed [the tutoring] and they’re doing it during the day. Before, the children’s parents would have to pick them up, so they couldn’t get very many [in the tutoring program] where this way the children that need it, they can get it.

JB: They tutor them during the day and then they can go home at the regular time?

JJ: Yes. So we don’t do after-school snacks with that, which was OK with me.

JB: What are some of the biggest challenges with your job? What’s the hardest to manage?

JJ: Well, it’s the ladies first, the ladies that work. Once in a while they will have a disagreement or something and then I have to try to make peace with them where they’ll get along, which doesn’t happen very often, but that’s a real trying thing.

JB: But I guess your management skills from the course at ICC would help?

JJ: Yes. One of the main things is if they do make a mistake you might in yourself feel, “Oh, what am I going to do?” but you say, “This is no big deal. We’ll just work this out.” And you do. Once something’s done I don’t raise my voice. I don’t say, “Well, what did you do this for?” I just say, “It don’t matter.” And it don’t. We get it done. Another problem is the teachers. They think since the children eat free they should be able to eat free. And now this year we went up from $2.50 to $2.75 for a meal, and they just think that’s awful. Well where can you go and eat a meal for $2.75?

JB: Not many places.

JJ: My cashier has a big job dealing with the teachers.

JB: Do you do your own ordering?

JJ: I do my own ordering. I have to figure out – you see when you have three main dishes I’ve got to figure out how many servings they will take of each of those. And the government says at the end of the serving period we shouldn’t have anything left over. They say after you do this meal three times, then you should have a grip on it; that they’re going to take 200 servings of chicken spaghetti. Well, they don’t know kindergarteners and first graders. So, it’s pretty hard. But then we try to reincorporate [the leftover portions] if it’s a food that we can bring back. But sometimes there are some things that just don’t heat up, like a hamburger. I think they say in the book we can heat them up but they’re wrong. They don’t heat up. The meat sticks to the bun and forget it; I’m not going to serve things like that to the children. And then I have to do my work schedules. There are some managers that come in in the morning and then quick-make their work schedules. When I leave out Friday afternoon I have my work schedule done for the whole week next. I’m not bragging, but this is the way it should be done, because if you want the most out of your ladies you can have them do some things a day ahead or two days ahead, where if you just come in in the morning and make out your work schedule, “Oh man, I wish I had done that yesterday.” So, ever since I’ve been manager, I do.

JB: Over these eighteen years has there been anyone special to kind of guide you or help you along, or show you the ropes?

JJ: I think Ann Nicholson has helped me the most.

JB: She’s the director here?

JJ: Yes. I have, I have made some big mistakes. And Ann would come in there and she’ll say, “This is fixable.” She never has raised her voice at me or anything. She’s easy to work with.

JB: It sounds as if you all have a wonderful working relationship here.

JJ: We do. We really do. I’m thankful to the Lord that He takes care of us. And the children, I think through the years I have learnt to love the children more all the time. The one thing I hate about our school here is when I first started we were probably at least a third white. Now we’re probably one percent white because the white parents have pulled their children out of the school. How can children learn to interact with other races of they don’t go to school with them? I don’t like that.

JB: Any memorable stories with the children over the years?

JJ: Oh, let’s see. That’s a good question. One thing that really always warms my heart is when I see them in the store. “The Cafeteria Lady!” And they come running and give you a hug. I have to be at point-of-service in the morning and there are some children who have to set their tray down and give me a hug EVERY MORNING. Some of those children get really special to you.

JB: That must really warm your heart.

JJ: Yes it does. It does. And I don’t care what color they are, I love them. They’re just sweet.

JB: Anything else you’d like to add today?

JJ: Just that the ladies I work with have really been good to me. My husband has cancer and I have to take off quite a bit, and they just pitch right in there and help me.

JB: It sounds like you all help each other at Okolona. Well thank you for taking the time to be with me today.

JJ: I appreciate you.