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Navy families surprise Jacksonville lunch ladies with flowers

Parents from Mayport wanted to say thanks to Finegan Elementary cafeteria staff

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Lunch ladies routinely serve children the most important meals of the day. Though it can be a thankless job, the cafeteria staff at Joseph Finegan Elementary are getting some well-deserved recognition.

The cafeteria staff were quietly preparing for the daily lunch rush Wednesday when they were surprised by some unexpected visitors from Naval Station Mayport who wanted to show their gratitude.

Kaya Richardson was one of the parents who showed up with Capt. David Yoder to deliver some gifts and flowers to the cafeteria staff. The gesture was their way of saying thanks.

“You all make sure you don’t embarrass our children, you guys make sure everybody eats and that everybody feels equal,” said Richardson, who helped organize the surprise.

Richardson said it’s not easy raising her children while her husband, Ontario Williams, is deployed. She said the cafeteria staff have had a huge impact, not only on her children but their classmates as well.

“A lot of people don’t realize how much work and love and effort goes into providing mass nutritious meals,” said Yoder.

At Finegan Elementary, the staff serve nearly 200 students breakfast and lunch every day. More than three-quarters of those kids are from the Navy base, the highest percentage in the district.

“To you, it’s not just a job, it’s a passion,” said Richardson. “You’re dedicated to taking care of the children, and just a heartfelt thanks from the Naval Station Mayport family and the beaches.”

While it may seem like a small gesture, it still brought tears to Taran Palmer’s eyes. She’s been working at the school for 10 years, and noted that no one is ever turned away because they can’t afford a meal.

“I just feel proud,” said Palmer. “The 10 years I’ve been here, I’m just glad to make people happy. … I’m a grandmother and I would want somebody to be there for my kids.”