Lynbrook’s latest competition is lunch rush

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Photos by Amy Liu and Deeksha Raj

These are a few items offered on the menu. (Photos by Amy Liu and Deeksha Raj)

Catherine Zhou

The introduction of free brunch and lunch meals for the 2021-22 school year has greatly increased student interest in school lunch, resulting in a new scene when the lunch bell rings each day: a stampede to the cafeteria from the halls and classrooms around campus.

“I’ll look out the window and see kids start streaming to the cafeteria,” Physics teacher Thanh Nguyen said. “The line loops around the entire quad.”

During the busiest days of the week, more than 800 lunches are served at the cafeteria, but even more lunches are served at schools across the district.

“Our highest participating high schools in the district serve 900-plus meals, and it’s trending upward,” FUHSD Food Services Director Divya Puri said.

Although long, the cafeteria line at Lynbrook moves relatively quickly. Due to the larger volume of students entering the cafeteria, the food services team implemented a new system for serving meals. Keypads were replaced with several student ID scanners, a small food cart was added near the 500s building and meals are now pre-plated.

“ I like how much more streamlined this year’s system is,” junior Sharon Zhu said. “Once you are in the cafeteria, it takes around a minute to get food and scan your card.”

Students and staff quickly became accustomed to the new lunch arrangement and the new menu that came along with it. Many students are satisfied with the wide array of entrees offered, including muffins and yogurt cups for brunch and burgers, pizza, burrito bowls and salads for lunch.

“I feel like the quality of food has stayed about the same from before the pandemic, and given the situation that all the food is free, the meals are adequate,” senior Michael Ma said.

Currently, free meals are paid for by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as an extension of the free meal policy established during the pandemic. In June 2021, Calif. announced a universal school meals program that permanently provides meals for all public school students at no cost. When the USDA waiver expires in June 2022, meals provided by Calif.’s public schools will be reimbursed by funds from the new universal program.

Faced with the task of preparing free meals for hundreds of students for the first time, Lynbrook’s food service team encountered many challenges.

“With COVID-19, a lot of the supply chain has been interrupted,” Lynbrook Food Services Manager Tom Fernandez said. “Sometimes we’ll order food and it won’t come, and we won’t find out it’s not coming until the day before we were supposed to have it.”

To combat this issue, FUHSD schools have developed a support system in which schools send supplies to other schools that need them. Cupertino and Lynbrook serve the most meals, so if items are backordered at Lynbrook, the staff call Fremont or Homestead to buy the items from them.

In addition, more work is required to have all the food ready in time, and the staff is busier than ever. Santa Gurrola, the baker and cook for Lynbrook, starts working at 6:00 a.m. to cook most of the food from scratch, while the rest of the team arrives a few hours later to prepare the meals. Everyone specializes in a specific job, and teamwork is effective and enjoyable.

“I like the group of people we are working with, and I actually like to come to work,” said Food Service Assistant Anna Conroy. “You don’t have much time to socialize, but we have each other’s backs and help each other.”

The food service staff agrees that seeing students enjoy the food is the most rewarding part of their job.

“If it weren’t for the students, I wouldn’t be here,” Gurrola said. “By the students liking the food and giving compliments to the food, it makes me feel like we’re doing something good here.”