A Family of Ten

Three times a day. Every day. 365 days a year.

You could say the kitchen staff at Laura Baker Services Association is always “on.” When 30 people are relying on you for their sustenance, you can’t exactly skip a meal or close down the kitchen for the day. Every day, the kitchen staff at LBSA prepare meals in the kitchen of Millis Hall and then deliver them to each of the five cottages via hand-pushed carts regardless of rain, sleet, snow or temperature. Afterwards, the dishes are picked up and washed and the kitchen gets cleaned up. On to the next meal.

Given the importance of this work, you might think the LBSA kitchen is staffed with 25 or maybe 30 individuals to ensure proper coverage. Guess again.

Ten people with 187 years of combined experience!

To an outsider, the work might seem monotonous, but if you ask members of the team they speak with admiration about what they do. Audrey, who has worked in the kitchen for 17 years, explains that, like most families, the kitchen staff at LBSA have their ups and downs and disagreements. All the while, there is clearly a mutual feeling of respect for each member of the team. Audrey explains, “We work well as a group. It’s like a family outside of family – people really care about each other.”

Behind every effective team, you’ll find an effective leader. A big reason that the LBSA kitchen team works so well together is the leadership and experience of Dietary Manager Eileen Anderson. She speaks humbly and fondly about her 34 years at LBSA and the members of her team. She says, “We try and go out and do things together. I’ve been a very blessed woman to work with all of them. They don’t always agree with me, but I appreciate all of them.”

Even though the faces in the kitchen haven’t changed much over the years, the work has. The kitchen crew has adapted to the restructuring of the campus into five separate cottages. Ila, who has been employed in the kitchen for 37 years, has seen many transitions. “When I first started working here, we used to do a five-course meal,” Ila explains. “We were all together in the dining hall as a large group. It is very different from today.” In addition to changes in the campus layout, the content of the meals has changed as well. Today, approximately one third of the meals the team prepares are individualized to accommodate special needs or health requirements.

Chris, who has been working in the kitchen for 11 years, has also seen his share of changes. And there are more on the horizon. “The biggest change is coming,” Chris explains. “We are moving to a totally different menu, which will take some time to put together.” Over the upcoming months, LBSA will be implementing a new dietary program as part of the organization’s goal to adopt healthy food practices focusing on nutrient-rich whole foods while maintaining client choice and input. Thanks, in part, to a grant from Northfield Hospital & Clinics, Eileen and her staff will be working directly with a registered dietician to implement the new menus on the Oak Street campus over the next several months. This will require new menus, ingredients and monitoring of data like calories and sodium content. Another layer of complexity. A new set of routines. The meals keep coming.

Hard work, fun and a team environment make the work rewarding. But, according to Audrey, the best part of working on the kitchen staff at LBSA is when a client smiles and says, “Have a good day!” Audrey adds, “That’s like a $100 bonus.”