Description: A lifelong Okolona, MS, resident, Shirley Miller has built her career in the same cafeteria she ate her lunch in as a child at Okolona Elementary School.
Jeffrey Boyce: This is Jeffrey Boyce. I am here at the Okolona Elementary School today, October 12, 2007, with Shirley Miller. Thank you so much Shirley for agreeing to share your story with me today.
Shirley Miller: You’re welcome.
JB: Could you begin by telling me a little bit about yourself, where you were born, where you grew up, and where you went to school?
SM: I was born here in Okolona, Mississippi, and I went to school at Okolona Elementary School.
JB: What is your first, earliest recollection of child nutrition, the school lunch program? Did they have school lunch when you were going to elementary school?
SM: Yes. We came through the cafeteria like it is now, through the line.
JB: Has anything much changed since you were a student?
SM: No, not that I know of.
JB: So, how did you get involved in child nutrition; how did you start to work in the cafeteria?
SM: I heard about an opening and I was looking for a job, so I filled out an application and sent it back the same day.
JB: You were eager.
SM: Yes, I needed a job.
JB: How long have you been working in the cafeteria?
SM: Fourteen years.
JB: What’s your favorite part about your job?
JB: So you like the interaction with the children?
SM: Oh, yes.
JB: Any special stories about the children?
SM: Well, they just like to see me laugh all the time and I talk to them when they come through the line. I call their names and they say, “Hey Miss Shirley, Hey Miss Shirley. How are you doing?” I like that. The children like the way I treat them.
JB: What are some of the changes that you’ve seen in the menus in the fourteen years that you’ve been here?
SM: There are a lot of changes. There is more nutritious food now.
JB: So you do less frying now than you used to?
JB: What are some of the children’s favorite items; what are some of their favorite menus?
SM: Chicken nuggets, pizza, hotdogs, and hamburgers.
JB: And french-fries?
SM: Oh, yes.
JB: What are some of the biggest challenges in your job? What are some of the hard things? Or maybe there aren’t any. You look like you enjoy your job.
SM: There are none to me.
JB: So, have you been in the same kitchen for fourteen years?
JB: What’s a typical day like? What time do you come in in the morning?
SM: I’m supposed to be here at 7:15, but I get here a little early.
JB: How do you start your day; how do you prepare to serve the lunch?
SM: I come in and I fix the water for the tables, and then I set up my cereal line. And then I set up my line with sausage and biscuit. And then I’m ready for them to come through.
JB: Oh. So you serve breakfast first?
JB: Have you always served breakfast; were they doing that for all of these fourteen years?
JB: And I guess there’s clean-up after that, and then you have to start getting ready for lunch?
SM: Yes. We fix the line up for lunch and then send the kids on through.
JB: Do they come in shifts? Does the first grade come first?
SM: I have the bigger kids on my line. The fourth grade comes first, and then the fifth, and then the sixth.
JB: How many meals do you serve each day?
SM: Close to four hundred.
JB: Did they have a training program here for the staff when you started?
SM: The experienced workers show the new people what to do and we just all work together.
JB: How many people work in your cafeteria?
JB: So it’s a small staff.
SM: We just got one new girl in.
JB: So you all are training her now?
SM: Yes. Me!
JB: So you serve breakfast and lunch then. Are there any snacks during the day?
SM: Yes, for the four-year-olds.
JB: Oh, you have four-year-olds here?
SM: Yes, we have twenty four-year-olds and three teachers. I fix them a snack in the afternoon, usually juice and a cookie or a cracker.
JB: So, you get here about 7:15, and what time does your day end?
SM: Two o’clock.
JB: Anything else you’d like to add?
SM: That’s about it.
JB: Well, thank you for sharing your story with me.
SM: Thank you.