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Lunch ladies recognized with 'Hero Day' in Depew, across country

It could be the mantra of the Lunch Lady, repeated before each seating of schoolchildren hungry for a lunch of sweet and sour chicken.
“Before a child can learn, his stomach must be full,” said Jarrett J. Krosoczka, who wrote and illustrated the Lunch Lady graphic novel series.
He sparked the “School Lunch Hero Day” in 2015 in schools throughout the country, including Depew, where lunch ladies served 97,637 breakfasts and 137,884 lunches last year.
It was Krosoczka's idea to set aside one day each year to honor school cafeteria workers, those women (and men) on the front lines of providing good nutrition daily to students from kindergarten through high school.
Fifth-graders at Cayuga Heights Elementary School on Friday gave the eight members of their food service team a gift each will wear with pride: a handmade apron.
“I was just thinking of fruit and stuff,” Abby Fisher said as she laid her fruit-filled apron out on a cafeteria table.
Kiera Szuba's apron pictured a super sandwich, its cape flapping in the wind.
Judy Morrow has 20 years on the food service line in Cayuga Heights. Her breakfast cart serves children in pre-K, kindergarten and first grade. She calls it her meals on wheels.
Last year, children made Morrow an apron covered with their handprints.
“It was really nice,” Morrow said. “The little ones I have just look up to me so much. It's always 'Mrs. Judy' and the hugs. The special cards they make I have up in my spare bedroom at home. I can't get rid of them.”
Barbara Albi, Depew's food service director, is a seasoned employee.
“People often don't understand the complexities of school breakfasts and lunches,” Albi said. “Lunch ladies aren't just grabbing whatever they have on hand and throwing it on the steam table. Quite the opposite; school lunch is arguably the most regulated, thought-about and highly planned meal in America.”
Lunch monitor Greg Wojda stood off to the side. It's his job to keep peace in the cafeteria, but on Friday he wore an apron – after a vigorous protest.
“I have 120 at one time,” said the retiree. “There are a lot of things going on. I love it. It's very rewarding. This is what I wanted to do. My wife and I raised five kids and we have five grandchildren.”
At Depew High School, cafeteria workers received a banner signed by students, while middle school students who dressed as superheroes dedicated poems to their lunch ladies.
They also filled buckets with fortune cookies that read: “It's our good fortune to have you as our lunch ladies.”
Kindergartners created posters showing bunches of flowers, each flower centered with a photo of a pupil. “Thank you bunches for our lunches,” the posters stated.
The cafeteria salutes in Depew mirrored those held at schools across the country Friday, marking School Lunch Hero Day.
Krosoczka, inspired by his own childhood school lunch hero, Jean J. Cariglia in Worcester, Mass., wrote and illustrated a series of books that stars a crime-fighting school lunch lady and her sidekick Betty. Krosoczka's series includes: “Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute,” “Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians” and “Lunch Lady and the Bake Sale Bandit.”
His Lunch Lady series is a two-time winner of the Children's Choice Book Award. He hosts “The Book Report”on Sirius XM's Kids Place Live, a radio show about books aimed at kids 10 and younger.
In 2010, Krosoczka founded the Joseph and Shirley Krosoczka Memorial Youth Scholarships at Worcester Art Museum to fund classes for young and underprivileged aspiring artists.