Food Service Manager
St. Martinville Primary School, St. Martin Parish, La.
St. Martin Federation of Teachers and School Employees, Local 6451
Praise for Lynette Thomas, "lunch lady" extraordinaire, is endless. "Mommy Nette" or "Mawmaw" to many in this small Louisiana town, she is a mentor, teacher, cheerleader, provider and friend.
In her day job for the past seven years at St. Martinville Primary School, the food service manager serves healthy meals with a heaping side of confidence. She hosts a celebration every month for all the birthday kids, who sit at their own table in the middle of the cafeteria and are feted with cupcakes, ice cream and presents. For some children in St. Martin Parish, this is their only birthday party.
Every Halloween, Thomas and her team of six food service workers create a haunted house in the gym, with treats for all. Up the road at her hometown of Parks, where "kids can't go trick-or-treating like they used to," Thomas puts on a Halloween extravaganza, closing off two blocks, manning a table with neighbors who give out candy and balloons to the younger set, and enlisting high schoolers to create a scary graveyard and haunted house for the older ones. Hundreds come every year for "Trick or Treat on Simon Street."
That's not all. With gifts donated by the parent-teacher organization, the local government and her co-workers, Thomas keeps the party going year-round. At Christmas, it's bikes raffled off to a lucky boy and girl. The children dance in a Mardi Gras parade in the school cafeteria, showered with beads and stuffed animals as they march. At Easter, she leads the school staff in making baskets.
When testing time rolls around, Thomas creates TV-style game shows in the cafeteria to supplement learning in the classroom. "Who Wants to Rock the State Test?" consists of five curriculum-based questions, with each child getting one question. They are allowed to call on their "lifelines," and everybody learns.
"The kids are loving it," she says. "They're so hyped now. It makes testing a game. I say, 'You know you can do it.' It's wonderful for them. Sometimes, my heart gets so full."
Thomas's latest plan for a party is to invite Cupid, an up-and-coming hip-hopper from nearby Lafayette, to bring his own style of line dancing back home after exams.
After school lets out, she works at a summer feeding program, and on Sundays, it's community breakfast after church. "She lives paycheck to paycheck like most people, but will feed everyone that comes to eat," says her nominator and co-worker Janet Ebow. "Like the old lady who lived in a shoe, she raised so many children, she really knew what to do!"
Thomas celebrates not only with the hundreds of children who come through her cafeteria doors, but with the dozens of women and children she's taken into her home. She gives these families a place to stay, warm meals, and enough kindness and encouragement to get them back on their feet.
The children in St. Martin Parish are lucky to have felt the love and good cooking of Lynette Thomas.