“Meme is the nickname my mom and her best friend gave me when I was little. That’s me. That’s what I’ve always been called. There were three other Marquetas in my graduating class, all spelled differently,” said Meme Jenkins, the Nutritional Services Manager at Dunbar Primary where she has served in that position for the past four years.
She said, “I started out on the serving line, now I supervise three other ladies and train them on the line and how to interact with kids.”
Ms. Jenkins worked for four years at Dunbar Primary serving up hot, fresh meals for primary students before becoming the manager. She has been in the Lufkin area all of her life and was a 2002 Lufkin Panther graduate. She played all sports in high school but loved volleyball the best. She even was on homecoming court her junior and senior year.
She said, “I was always involved. I guess I didn’t grow out of that.”
Ms. Jenkins loves to be involved with the students. She arrives at 6 a.m. and opens the doors for her co-workers. She and her co-workers begin to prep for the day’s menus.
“We start breakfast at 7 a.m. so we get everything together so it can go smoothly and we can get kids in and out. After breakfast, we decide what needs to be prepped for lunch. Kids eat based on what they see, if it’s appetizing,” she said.
She likes to work with the kids others might call difficult or who have behavior problems. She tells the story of connecting with one student who didn’t talk much. Each time the student walked in, Ms. Jenkins would smile at her or give her a high five.
“She’s gotten to where she’ll nod her head and has learned her lunch number. She’s communicating, and I consider that a success. I love kids, the kid as a whole,” she said.
Ms. Jenkins wanted to be a teacher at one point but decided the job would be too emotional for her.
She said, “I would get attached. I would want to fix everything, so what I do is perfect. I know they’re eating. I didn’t expect to stay here when I took this job, but I can’t see myself anywhere else.”
Items in the cafeteria used to be made from scratch but now that the government has regulations on sodium, many items come pre-packaged.
Ms. Jenkins said, “They (the students) eat more of what we have now. It’s more grab and go, more kid friendly. It was a lot more work when it was cooked from scratch.”
Her favorite lunchroom meal is tangerine chicken. It’s a Chinese dish served over rice or noodles, and students get a fortune cookie with this meal. Ms. Jenkins claims to be a picky eater and usually won’t eat something unless she sees it cooked. She learned a lot in the kitchen from her parents.
“My mom would make smaller portions so I just make her recipes but larger. My dad can cook. He cooks for the holidays like Thanksgiving. He learned from his mom,” she said.
On the weekend Ms. Jenkins spends time with her two boys ages 12 and 3, and she also does hair. She has to be careful to rest her hands though because excessive braiding can cause carpal tunnel syndrome. Her older son loves her chicken spaghetti. When asked what makes it special, Ms. Jenkins smiles real big and says because she makes it!
The ladies in the cafeteria, along with Ms. Jenkins, make each day special for the kids. They wear costumes like a large hamburger or dress up in sailor outfits. Sometimes they’ll have a ‘Joke of the Day’. One idea that’s coming up soon is that they will set up a timer and when the timer goes off, whatever student is at the cash register will win a prize. They make eating healthy fun. Knowing every student’s name is important for Ms. Jenkins.
She said, “They (students) consider me a friend. Someone who cares about them as a whole and not just someone who says “take your food”. A big compliment is when parents come in and eat with their kids.”
She said, “School meals may be the only meal kids get. If I’m not going to eat it, I’m not going to serve it. If it’s the only meal they get, it will be the best meal.”
Thank you Meme Jenkins for making lunchtime educational, healthy, and fun!