After feeding students all summer, Fayette County cooks gear up for September start date

FAYETTE COUNTY, WV (WOAY) – The cooks and food service personnel for Fayette County Schools began their back-to-school training on Monday at Oak Hill Middle School in preparation for the tentative start date next week. 

School cafeterias already have strict food prep and safety guidelines but when you throw a pandemic into the mix, the new protocols can be seen right off the bat as cooks and food service personnel will now be fully decked out in masks, gloves and shields. 

“These shields are a special shield developed really for food preparation,” Fayette County’s Director of Child Nutrition Andrew Pense said. “They protect the food that’s down in front of you that you’re preparing as opposed to the type that’s worn around your head.”

For those learning virtually, the students and their families will be able to pick up the 5-day meal packs on Thursday.

For those who come to the physical building with the staggered start, the students will be having lunch and breakfast in the classroom and then sent home with meals for remote learning days. 

“In the classrooms, we’re going to be using an insulated tote like this and the meals are going to be in a clam shell like this,” Pense said. “Kids are not going to serve themselves. Instead, teachers are going to serve them at their desks.” 

Tressa Critchley, the coordinator for child nutrition, says that the cooks have navigated how to feed students at school, feed those learning virtually and send home food with those on their remote days, and they will be prepared to drop all plans and go back to meal distribution days if need be.

“A lot of obstacles that we’ve had to overcome, but our cooks and our staff has been wonderful,” she said. “We’ve really adapted to everything.” 

Regardless of what this year’s school year will look like, one thing that continues to be a priority: the students must be fed. 

“The cooks’ passion was really showcased in the early spring when the pandemic first hit, and they were volunteering to help hand out meal packs and that continued through the summer food service program and now it’s ongoing. They’re all going to be here whether students are learning in the building or learning from home,” Pense said. 

The Oak Hill campus cooks had their in-person training on Monday while other cohorts tuned in virtually, and it will rotate until school starts. 

Thursday’s meal distribution for virtual learners will take place from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. at each student’s school.

Anna Saunders
Anna Saunders is a weekend reporter for WOAY. With a diploma from Princeton Senior High School and a mother from Fayette County, she is no stranger to the area. She received a degree in Media Arts and Design from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia and wanted to return home to start her career as a reporter.