After careers as an Army food-service specialist and a veterinary assistant, Kathryn Redden never dreamed of working in a school lunchroom.
But as Harlem Middle School's lunchroom manager, she has found a career that keeps her going from dark to dark. She wakes each morning at 3:30 a.m. to get ready for work, and to feed her two dogs and three cats.
By 5:30 a.m., she unlocks the doors of the school lunchroom. That's when the first of her five nutrition assistants arrive to prepare breakfast.
Redden, 41, is in charge of the blizzard of paperwork that accompanies the nutrition program, and she relies on her staff to prepare and serve the meals. Their combined 77 years of experience has created an unbeatable team, she said.
Katherine Emory and Christine Cummings have 21 years at the school, Sandra Nelson has 14 years, Isabell Morris has 11 and Alice Rolland has 10.
Her specialty since taking over as lunch manger in January is the salad bar and fresh fruit she serves. Of the 380 lunches she averages daily, up to 70 might be salads.
"I have five sixth-grade boys that eat them every day," she said.
In the winter, she offers hot coco with marshmallows for breakfast to warm the pupils up before they start their day.
Redden not only feeds the children healthy meals, but also is a coach for girls softball and track.
"I do it for the kids. I want to get to know them and let them know I care," Redden said. "I am here for them and they are what matter."
Though they finish serving lunch at 12:15 p.m. and are cleaned up in 30 minutes, with her coaching duties she doesn't leave the school until 6 p.m. some days.
"She brings a lot of enthusiasm to her job," said Jane Wiggins, director of school nutrition services. "A lot of the students call her 'mom', and she knows all of them by name."
Schools across the country will be celebrating National School Lunch this week. The annual event was started in 1963 by a proclamation from President Kennedy.
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