Let’s do lunch (12:18 p.m.)

Published 5:20 pm Tuesday, February 24, 2009

As the clock strikes noon, lunchroom manager Marquetta Platt is zipping around the cafeteria of Shelby Elementary, intent on making sure each child gets something to eat.

She looks at one bespectacled 5-year-old who is carefully balancing a hamburger on two hands. He explains that he dropped his first hamburger, then trots away to eat.

“If they drop their food, I let them come back in,” Platt said. “I can’t let that baby go without food.”

Platt, who has worked in the Shelby Elementary lunchroom since 1999, is there to take care of the students.

“I have a good relationship with my kids. I’m tough on them, and they have to follow my rules,” she said. “But they know I’m doing it for their own good. When I fuss at them, it’s like a loving mother.”

While some things about the school cafeteria never change — such as the chicken pot pie and milk cartons — technology has brought the lunch line into a new era. Children at Shelby Elementary now use a five-digit code to access their lunch accounts as they check out of the lunch line.

Also, medical knowledge is more advanced now, which keeps the lunchroom ladies on their toes. Food dye allergies were virtually unheard of just a few years ago; now one child can’t eat red dye, while another is allergic to pickles and green gelatin.

The lunchroom is still a staple of the school day, however.

Out of Shelby Elementary’s 203 students, 180 come through the lunch line every day.

The other 23 students eat in the cafeteria on certain days, depending on the menu, Platt said.

No matter what, though, every child will eat. It’s mandatory for elementary-age children to have a lunch provided for them, Platt said.

“I have to feed these students. No child can sit at that table without food,” she said. “I don’t have a choice. If a child doesn’t bring lunch from home, I have to feed them.”

Many students come in for breakfast as well. Again, sometimes who’s eating depends on what’s cooking.

“The other day, I had breakfast pizza, and we fed 101,” Platt said. “A lot of parents love it. Where else can you eat for $1?”

While her profession may not be the world’s most respected, Platt knows who she really works for.

“Sometimes I feel overlooked in an adult’s eyes, but never in a child’s. I don’t care about the adults. I want to deal with the kids more than the adults,” she said.