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One Day: March 5

Janet Potts

Toliver Elementary School

It’s early Friday morning, about 7:15 a.m., and kids are beginning to file into the Toliver Elementary School cafeteria, where they’re greeted with the smiling face and cheerful voice of Janet Potts.

“Good morning,” Potts, a cafeteria staff member, says to students, calling many of them by name as they slowly shuffle into line, still looking half-asleep.

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Potts greets kids with a smile Friday morning.

As they see Potts, students begin smiling, faces lighting up. Some of them get hugs — she says she knows some kids need it.

“I try to smile, I want to have a good impact and cheer them up,” she says.

She asks about their mornings, comments on their clothes and hair and other things to engage the kids early in the morning.

“I try to make it fun,” she says.

Potts will be celebrating 20 years at the school in April.

“I love mingling with the kids,” she says. “I just love them being fed. You never know if these two are the only two meals they get in a day.”

One young man comes in with his right arm in a cast; Potts asks him what happened.

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Potts closes up a tray stand, which has been prepped for Monday’s breakfast.

He mumbles a reply. Jokingly, she asks his brother and sister behind him in line, “you didn’t do that to him did you?”

They both smile and shake their heads no.

As kids file past, Cafeteria Manager Debbie Bottoms says that some mornings Potts sings to them.

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Potts hands plasticware to a Toliver Elementary School student during breakfast Friday morning.

Potts laughs and says she’ll save the singing for another day. One of her more common songs is about how an apple a day keeps the doctor away — but there aren’t apples being served this day.

Potts’ daughter, Jerrica Funkhouser, and son, Jeremy Potts, both attended Toliver and Danville schools; Funkhouser is a first-grade teacher at the school; and Potts’s granddaughter Addi is a second grader at Toliver.

Potts has three other grandkids — Brody, Collier and Jaylen.

“They’re my life since my husband passed,” she said. Jerry, her husband, passed away about three years ago.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com
Potts pushes a cart with oranges out of the fridge at Toliver Elementary Friday morning, preparing for lunch.

The kids at school become Potts’ kids, too, and they don’t forget her. When the Danville High School Football team competed and won at state in the fall, some of her former kids came back to visit.

“Some of them hugged me and ate breakfast with me. They were excited,” she says.

Potts says she’s now on her second generation of Toliver students, seeing the children of Toliver alumni that she fed.

“I tell the kids, ‘I had your momma,’ and they grin. They get a kick out of that.”

During lunch, Potts works as a monitor in the cafeteria, releasing classes to their teachers and making sure everyone is staying out of trouble.

“Sometimes, I take them over (to the side) and I talk to them when I can tell it’s been a bad day,” she says. “… They just need love. And a full belly.”

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Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com
Deb Wulf, Leticia Lyons, Janet Potts and Debbie Bottoms hold down the fort in the Toliver Elementary School Cafeteria.

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Debbie Bottoms counts the kids eating breakfast Friday morning at Toliver Elementary School.

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Deb Wulf puts lettuce into a food processor for Friday’s lunch while Janet Potts begins prep work for Monday’s breakfast.