LaChaeska Grant, CNP Site Manager, Randolph Park Elementary School; Anniston, AlabamaRight off the bat, one of the first things LaChaeska said during her interview was simply, “I love what I do. I wouldn’t change anything.” Throughout our conversation, it was abundantly clear what an understatement that proved to be. LaChaeska pours herself into her work, always going the extra mile every single day to ensure each student is cared for — from their nutritional needs and beyond.
While overseeing the foodservice team at Randolph Park Elementary School, LaChaeska adds a personal touch to every interaction with her students — and it shows. Charmonique Young, her lunchroom manager, said, “The love she has for her kids flows through her and into her food. These kids love her like their mom. She encourages them, she mentors them, she fights for them. She supports them in school and in their community.”
Just one way LaChaeska is involved in the community includes a robust community feeding program that provides three meals a day during any break when kids are away from school and don't have access to school meals for a week or more. LaChaeska and others travel to every neighborhood in the city to deliver meals and make sure their students’ needs are met.
While the food LaChaeska serves provides nourishment, it also creates connections with her students as well as teaching opportunities outside the classroom. She shared how many of her students had never had chicken parmesan, and after trying it, they loved it and kept wanting to know if they were pronouncing the name correctly. LaChaeska told a similar story about when she first served kumquats. As she described teaching the kids about these new foods, the love in her voice was heartwarming. Additionally, the quality of LaChaeska’s meals has become legendary. Last year, a visiting writer was lucky enough to stop by Randolph Park on a day when LaChaeska was serving one of her famous soul food meals: chicken or pork chops, collards greens, mac & cheese, corn bread and peach cobbler. The writer couldn’t believe the amazing food was coming from a school cafeteria. He took a picture of his food and posted it to his social media. From there, the post quickly went viral, receiving a whopping 90,000 shares in just one day. After Anita Suttle, child nutrition director, shared that story with us during the interview, LaChaeska was quick to spread the praise to the rest of her team, saying, “That was not just me. My team is so awesome, I tell them every day that I could not do this job without them.”
As a leader, LaChaeska’s dedication and commitment are infectious. During our interview, Charmonique talked about what she’s learned from working with LaChaeska. “This woman cooks with a heart of gold. She taught me that when you’re cooking, whatever you’re feeling shows up in your food. She taught me to cook from a place of passion and love.” She went on to say, “It’s not about us, it’s about the kids. It’s all about giving our kids the very best meal we can, because for some of our babies, the only food they receive could be the meal they get from us.”
To bolster the amazing quality of her Instagram-worthy meals, LaChaeska relies on different items from General Mills. She shared how the Pillsbury™ Italian Cheeses & Garlic Pull-Aparts are a huge hit with students and teachers alike. Also, prepackaged, ready-to-eat products like cereal bars are a must-have at breakfast time. LaChaeska mentioned how if they ever run out, she’ll hear about it from the students and they’ll quickly grab more from the back.
While our conversation was grounded by food and the meals served, it was amazing how many times LaChaeska mentioned her love of her students, staff and the job. When Anita was asked if there was anything she’d like LaChaeska to hear, she replied, “Just how much she is loved and appreciated.” Anita’s voice cracked a bit with emotion as she went on, “She is our driving force, and her efforts have not gone unnoticed. You are very much appreciated at Anniston City Schools.” It was a fitting, loving way to sum things up. Thank you, LaChaeska. for doing what you love and bettering the community around you.
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