Ehite Gizaw, left, who works in the cafeteria at Mountain View High School, shakes hands with Rep. Rob Woodall on Friday as Woodall toured the cafeteria with manager Gary Davis, middle. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)
LAWRENCEVILLE — Hard-working cafeteria workers at Mountain View High School on Friday were glad to have a listening ear to their laments about rising healthcare costs and disappointing retirement account statements.
U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Lawrenceville, toured the cafeteria and met with cafeteria manager Garry Davis and about 20 members of his staff who daily prepare about 800 breakfasts and 1,200 lunches for Mountain View students. Woodall heard several personal stories of why the workers came to work for Gwinnett County Public Schools and the struggles and successes their families have experienced in recent years.
“I was hoping with this visit, and I think it happened, that they know that someone sees it,” Davis said. “Someone to see that we need our insurance (coverage) increased, we need our (finances) when we retire, to be there for us.”
One worker, who said she has Lupus, worried about the rising costs and coverage options. Another was proud to share how her son recently enrolled at Yale University. Another worker, who told Woodall she’s worked in GCPS for 11 years, and is vested, said she would receive less than $200 per month in retirement. The cafeteria workers don’t share the same retirement plan as school teachers, Davis said.
“The need for insurance and the need for the retirement,” Davis said. “Both of them are crucial things for them being here. They want the insurance, and they would like to think after committing all of my time, they want to be appreciated in the end.”
They average about 20 work hours per week, and handle the onslaught of students who descend on the cafeteria largely between 9:30 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. Davis called his staff the “hidden nucleus” in the school.
“Absolutely no school can operate without a cafeteria,” Davis said. “These ladies touch every single student in the school, and nobody else in the school system does that. This is an opportunity that I want the congressman to see that these are hard working people, they’re ground-level, and most people don’t even get recognized.”
Mountain View High School Principal Keith Chaney said when chicken and waffles are served, the lines are out the door, and that’s just one reason why the cafeteria is a popular place for students.
“Garry and his staff are the epitome of those who support teachers, they make sure our kids are fed, and they give them a good experience and our kids like coming here,” Chaney said. “They’re all about making sure our kids are ready to learn.”
Davis told Woodall how proud he was to lead the staff, and shared personal attributes of every worker, while they walked through the kitchen and watched the operation in progress.
“We have so much to brag about in this county, and you heard it from so many of those folks,” Woodall said. “People had been elsewhere and they wanted to come be a part of something that’s trying to do it better than it’s done before.”
Woodall said the workers gave him a lift to be surrounded by people who have a sense of public service.
“Folks who don’t just talk the talk, these guys are walking the walk every day to make sure these kids have a better future,” Woodall said. “We talk so much about how everything is about our kids, and making sure our kids have a better future. You can talk about it, or you can come over here and see it, and visit with the folks who are actually investing their lives doing it.”