Food for the Belly, Food for the Soul


Polly Robinson, KP News

Longtime lunch lady at KPMS Wendy Hennessy. Photo: Richard Miller, KP News

One of the best parts of Wendy Hennessy’s job as “Lunch Lady” for Key Peninsula Middle School was having a student say, “I told my mom you are my lunch lady and my mom says you were her lunch lady, too!” After 30 years in the kitchen at KPMS, Hennessy has been the lunch lady for a lot of students.

When she moved here from Connecticut with her husband, Hennessy left her family behind. “We left with nothing,” she said. “We didn’t know anyone here. But working as a lunch lady, I have a huge family today.”

Hennessy’s family includes her co-workers and the students. She’s been in the kitchen longer than others by two years. Over those years she’s seen changes in the students.

“The kids have changed over time...more of a lack of respect—that’s a difference. They’re still polite to me, though not always,” she said. She remembers that someone once told her, “Always be nice to the lunch lady.”

Hennessy takes time out to notice her students and they, in turn, appreciate that. She does, she said, “take the ‘troubled’ kids,” those who seem to need more attention, and treats them “extra special and make sure they get some contact and some acknowledgment, and it makes all the difference. If I know who they are before they give their information (to get their lunch), it makes them smile.”

Not every child is entitled to lunch, as a matter of course. There’s paperwork that must be completed and that doesn’t always happen correctly. Hennessy does what she can to make sure those children still have something to eat. If a child has no food, she helps parents with paperwork so children can get food. “I have not, and will never, take a lunch away from a student due to lack of money,” she said.

She also hates to waste food. Despite being very careful to cook the right number of meals to meet the specific demand, there are sometimes small amounts left over; she used to pass it out to the children. “That’s against the rules,” she said, “but every now and then you have a growing kid who asks for extras and I hate the idea of throwing the food away.”

It takes a great heart to cook and feed nearly 400 children every day and Hennessy has no immediate plans to leave her KPMS family. She is waiting for her husband to retire before making plans to do that herself, she said. For now, she can be found in the kitchen of the school, really enjoying the work she does.

“I love hearing the kids laugh and joke,” she said. “I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have that. Besides, it’s hard to find someone to do this kind of work. People don’t seem to want to do it. I love it, though.”

Hennessy hopes that someday they can find someone to come in to work there as long as she has and to appreciate the fun and light the children bring each day; someone who will feel, as she does, that “there’s no reason any of those kids have to go hungry.”