Those who feed Kern’s children work through pandemic despite changes in work

February 8, 2021 /

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, essential workers are those who conduct a range of operations and services that are typically essential to continue critical infrastructure operations.

Kern Sol News spoke with a special group of essential workers. They work for the Kern County Superintendent of Schools Food and Nutrition Services department. Their central kitchen prepares more than 700,000 breakfasts, lunches, and snacks, all meeting USDA nutrition guidelines, for
students in KCSOS operated programs every year.

During the pandemic, their main role and goals to feed children in their district have remained unchanged, but they have had to adapt to their new environment as essential workers.

“We had to navigate through uncharted waters,” said Rafael Juarez, head of foodservice. “Our programs are not designed or approved by USDA, the federal funding source for our program, to operate any differently.”

Juarez said him and his team had to get guidance from the California Department of Education.

“It was a challenge to reorganize ourselves and restructure our program to execute the important role of feeding children,” Juarez said.

Another change staff had to endure is not having kids around, said Nora Ontiveros, a cook. Ontiveros said this lowered morale among staff members.

Another cook, Nancy Lazo, said her entire routine changed since she is also a student at Bakersfield College and had to transition to distance learning.

“I am not computer savvy, at all,” she said.

Along with many others, she has had to juggle work, school, and being a parent. She said she is extremely grateful that her son’s daycare center never shutdown, so she has been able to balance everything.

Teneya Olmedo is also juggling life, as her child’s school has yet to reopen. Like many essential workers right now, childcare is difficult with schools having to transition to online and having working parents.

She knows she needs to provide for her family and put food on her own table.

“I love my job and feeding the community, it may be regular, but I feel it is still helping” Olmedo said.

One thing is clear, each one of these essential workers loves their job and has had to overcome their own personal struggles, in and out of work. They help continue to feed local Kern community and deserve much-respected appreciation every single day.