Home Cooking

Dec. 4-13, 2003

By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
Cafeteria director at St. Matthew’s School serves up food, friendship and fun

EAST SYRACUSE –– When more than 180 students and staff at St. Matthew’s School go through the lunch line each day, they can be sure that whatever they are served will be hot, delicious and homemade. Debbie Poletto-Garrow, director of the cafeteria, wouldn’t have it any other way. “We are a family here at St. Matthew’s,” said Garrow. She is proud that St. Matthew’s is one of the few elementary schools in the Syracuse Diocese that still runs an operating cafeteria. “Most schools have their meals prepared at separate locations and shipped in from the operating school,” said Garrow in a letter she sent home to parents. If that were the case, St. Matthew’s lunches would be shipped in styrofoam containers from East Syracuse Minoa School District and distributed to the students. “The kids would have to make their lunch selections a month in advance,” she said. The students show their appreciation for Garrow’s efforts on a daily basis. They are quick to say hello or give her a hug when she walks by. Ian Enderle, a first grader at St. Matthew’s, recently baked a pie for Garrow to thank her for the special way she takes care of him. “I made her a pie cause I knew it would make her happy,” said Ian. Ian’s mom helped him with the pie. “I like her because of lunch. I like to go to lunch cause I like to eat,” he said. Ian said that he likes all of the food prepared by Garrow. “All of them are my favorite,” he said. “Mrs. Garrow is good for us.”

Alyssa Granite, a sixth grader, couldn’t agree more. “My favorite lunch is the fried chicken and mashed potatoes,” said Alyssa. At the mention of the mashed potatoes, all four children being interviewed jumped up from their chairs to enthusiastically agree. “That’s my favorite lunch too,” said Abby Eschen, who is in fifth grade. Garrow prepares 50 pounds of potatoes per day with the help of an 80-year-old, stainless steel mixer. The mixing bowl itself weighs 50 pounds and requires two staff members to remove it from its base. The other top contender with the students is pasta with homemade meat sauce. Sister Marianne Baehr, CSJ, has been working at St. Matthew’s for three years. “I’ve never been in a school where so many children buy their lunch,” said Sister Marianne. “When pizza or spaghetti or rigatoni is on the menu, 95 percent of the children buy their lunch.” The popularity of the menu results in long lunch lines that stretch from the cafeteria, out the door and up the stairs. In addition to the hot lunches, the students have a choice of fresh salads made to order, peanut butter and jelly, tuna, bologna, or egg salad sandwiches. There are also homemade soups, fresh fruit and hot pretzels. “None of our fruit or soups come from a can,” said Garrow.

“She makes our lunches just the way we like them,” said Alyssa. “If we forget our lunch money, she gives us our lunch anyway. Everything is hot and fresh and she takes our suggestions on what we like.” Abby said that Garrow gives them a boost in their day. “Mrs. Garrow is amazingly great. When my brother, Tommy, went to this school, Mrs. Garrow was so kind to make chicken wings for lunch,” said Abby. “She always makes my personal favorites. Believe me, you won’t find a school lunch like this anywhere. My mom has taught at many other Catholic schools and she said that they don’t have lunches like these anywhere else.” Samantha Colton, a fourth grader, has been a student at St. Matthew’s since first grade. “She makes us happy and brightens our day, everyday,” said Samantha. Samantha, Abby and Alyssa attend after-school programs or stay after school for basketball or play practice. They admitted that Garrow will often cook them up a batch of chicken wings after school or provide them with snacks or drinks. Garrow takes great care in selecting only the freshest fruits and vegetables at the best prices. On any given day, Garrow will serve approximately 100 pounds of fruit, 20 pounds of vegetables, five cases of chicken, and 20 pounds of pasta. Her meat sauce requires 20 pounds of hamburger and when serving meatball subs, she and her staff make 400 meatballs.

After Garrow’s duties as cafeteria director are completed, she moves down the hall to her other jobs as an aid in the after school program and a helper in the day care program. Garrow averages between 10 and 11 hours a day at the school. Garrow’s relationship with the students is a unique and strong one. When one student’s grandmother passed away, it was Garrow that she turned to for consolation. “If you’re having a bad day, she gives you something to laugh about,” said Alyssa. “She let’s us be ourselves.”

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