Terry Campbell, Kitchen Manager, El Verano Elementary School, Sonoma Valley Unified School District
Origin: Presidio, San Francisco, CA
This August, Terry Campbell will have been with the school district for 25 years. She lives two blocks from El Verano Elementary School, a K-5 school that both of her daughters attended and now all three of her grandchildren are students there too. This takes roots to a whole new level, which we found quite a bit in talking with school food service staff in Sonoma Valley.
Terry tells us the story of how she came to work in this kitchen and for the district. She used to volunteer at El Verano when her girls were little. The kitchen manager was a friend and they rode horses together. One day, she decided to apply for a substitute position in the kitchen, and the district hired her at the high school, where she worked for eight years prior to moving to El Verano. That’s a route we’ve heard from school food service throughout the nation.
In her almost 25 years with the district, she’s worked for a lot of school food service directors. She says of Chef Cody Williams, who’s been on the job now since November 2013, “He’s been good on giving us the tools we need.” She cites the Robot Coupe, a commercial food processor pictured left. She loves it, with all the fruit she has to prep, including fresh pineapple. And says her gas oven is also back up and working too, thanks again to Cody.
We asked her what it is like now, versus 1990, in the school kitchen. She immediately said, “The fruit and salad bar.” She says the fruit bar is packed with fresh pears, fruit cups with melon, strawberries, red grapefruit, lemon slices, pineapple chunks, cherries and papayas. Back in the 90s, she said, pizza was homemade. “It wasn’t equal, so we went to premade.”
“We’re unique because each site prepares its own food – we have full kitchens. We even make macaroni and cheese from scratch. In winter, we make turkey dinners once a month. This is a long time tradition. Our spaghetti sauce is homemade, our French bread.” We ask her if she meant that she thaws a frozen loaf and puts it in the oven.
“No, no!” she says, “Flour, yeast, water. We do a lot of cooking and baking.” Perhaps that’s why her day starts, five days a week, at 6 a.m. in the school kitchen. Or, it could be prepping breakfast for 225 students per day, all free and reduced meals.
The aroma alone would call people into the cafeteria, make them feel welcome, and cause their digestive systems to start. In fact, Terry says, they serve a minimum of 360 meals a day, in three shifts. She loves to cook she says, so much so that at the end of the day, she goes home and cooks too.
She personally likes to cook lasagna. She learned to cook from her grandmother. Her own mother was a single mom and they lived on welfare. As a child, she and her 5 younger siblings weren’t exposed to fresh fruits and vegetables except through her grandmother. While growing up, Terry lived with her grandmother for a bit in Oklahoma, where her grandmother cooked for ranch hands.
Her grandmother also taught her to ride horses. “She taught me a lot,” Terry says, “including how to make my spaghetti. Everyone loves my spaghetti.”
We ask Terry what she’d like to say to her fellow school food service front line workers across the country. Without hesitating, she says, “This job is rewarding. To know you are helping is rewarding.”
“Everyday I get kids who come up to me and say, ‘Miss Terry, I really love your food.” That makes it worth it. We have a lot of children very hungry – they want to eat, and they enjoy the meal. I like to come to work. Sometimes I ask myself, why I’m still doing this after so long. And I know it’s because of the feeling I get when I see those faces.”