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Summer feeding program one of last duties for retiring food services director

Judy Ellis is winding down her 22-year career as director of food services for the Boyle County School system this month and is making plans for her retirement. 

Judy Ellis has helped feed tens of thousands of kids in the Boyle County School District during her 22-year career in food services. But now, she’ll be focusing her efforts on two kids specifically: her 8-year-old and 5-month-old grandchildren.

“I’m going to be a stay-at-home grandma,” said Ellis, who will be retiring after more than two decades working for the school district.

School’s out, but Ellis isn’t done yet — she’s working to keep kids fed this week during Boyle County’s Black and Gold Academy.

“Feeding these kids is really rewarding,” she said, as she took half-pint cartons of milk from a crate and stacked them in a cooler.

Ellis is also working to coordinate the summer feeding program in the county.

The loud chatter of students in the lunchroom never ceases and Ellis constantly scours the tables. When students leave a particular “peanut table,” she quickly and thoroughly wipes it off in case the next occupant has a peanut allergy.

“You never know what the day’s going to be like,” Ellis said.

During the regular school year, Ellis said she and her co-workers multi-task and have to be organized in order to feed all the students in the school system. She said sometimes kitchen equipment goes down, and deliveries fail to arrive.

“You have to go with the flow.”

Sitting back in her small office filled with books, notebooks, binders and papers, Ellis said school food service regulations have become much more strict than they were at the beginning of her career.

“They were not as specific,” she said — she was required basically to offer a meat, vegetable, fruit and milk back then.

Today’s school menus must follow guidelines concerning calorie counts, sodium, whole grains and subgroups like different colors of vegetables.

Ellis said the students’ meal preferences have also changed over the years, which has led to major changes in the schools’ kitchens and lunchroom facilities.

She’s encouraged that students of all ages are eating more fresh fruits and less fried foods. “It’s exciting to see how students are choosing more wisely now.”

In fact, the high school kitchen doesn’t even have a deep fryer for french fries.

“At one time we offered fried french fries every day.” Now, they may offer baked french fries once a week.

Long gone are the days when high school students file into the lunchroom and have lunchroom workers fill their plates for them. Students now go to different food stations and select only what they want. For example, when sub sandwiches are served, students create their own personalized subs or can even make a salad out of the fresh greens and veggies available.

Ellis said she’ll miss her job and all of the people and good friends she’s worked with. But she knows the students will be well taken care of because the food service workers sincerely want the kids to be well-fed. “They really care,” Ellis said.

She is especially happy about the free lunches that will be provided to every student in Junction City and Perryville elementary schools beginning when school opens in August. Those schools qualified for a federally funded program due to their high percentages of low-income students.

“This job has given me purpose. Feeding is important. I know some kids may come in in the mornings hungry because they didn’t have anything to eat at night.”

Ellis said being able to feed these students has been very fulfilling.

“I think I have made a difference.”