Did you say free food?

After the pandemic, food is provided to all students regardless of need.


The Cougar Cafe is where cafeteria staff– Louise Smith, Romeo Jimenez, Margarita Ramirez, and Rhonica Barrio– prepare food for lunch and nutrition. Photo by: Rachel Gonzalez

Rachel Gonzalez

Making her first debut in the Ventura Unified School District as a “noon duty” staff 23 years ago, Lousie Smith is now the Cafeteria Manager at Ventura High School and has been for the past 4 years. Being a leader in the kitchen means that Smith has many daily duties. She lists her tasks, “I am in charge of all the ordering. Making sure everyone is on task. All our paperwork. -because we have to record everything we make.” Helping her get the work done she has a team of food staff that work alongside her everyday including breakfast cook, lunch cook, salad/bistro box prepper, fruit and vegetable prepper. 

The Ventura School District plans the meals served to students at VHS. “There’s a state guideline we have to follow,” explains Smith. 

When asked about changes due to COVID-19, she couldn’t help but mention the elephant in the room, VHS no longer has a snack bar. Which is a big concern for the VHS student body but isn’t the only change made due to COVID-19 guidelines.

Cafeteria Staff must provide individual tissues for each fruit since students can no longer use communal tongs. Condiments can no longer be displayed for students’ buffet style. Alternatively, students can receive individually packaged condiments by request. 

However, by far the biggest difference between now and the past is the free food distributed at VHS. “We are not cashiering because everyone is free.” Smith says with excitement. Instead of cashiering, cafeteria staff count the number of students that come through everyday with a clicker. This means wait time in the cafeteria is much shorter since students no longer have to distribute their school ID number to the cafeteria staff cashiering. Mera Clobis, The Assistant Principal shares insight on how VHS was able to get free lunch for it’s students. She shares “Extra money was allocated from our federal government to allow all students, regardless of need, to be able to have free lunch.” Students and faculty overwhelmingly agree that this affects all students positively. Clobis says “They [students] don’t have to worry about what they are going to eat while they are here.” Seneca Paris, sophomore at VHS, “It’s good. Everyone can have free lunch if they need it.” 

Lunch Manger Louise Smith and the other cafeteria staff continue to evolve with VHS. In the four years that Smith has been a VHS staff, the way things work has changed so much due to COVID-19.