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New Normal: Cafeteria Worker


Now for our regular segment exploring the new school year and a New Normal - today, what life is like inside the school at lunchtime. Today's story comes from cafeteria worker Trish Campa (ph).

TRISH CAMPA: Well, we've been pretty lucky because we're in a very small rural community. And as far as I know, no one in our community has been hit with the pandemic.

MARTIN: Trish lives in Palmer, Neb. The school is small, roughly 300 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. And even though there haven't been any reported coronavirus cases in her community, the school is still taking the pandemic seriously.

CAMPA: Now we have a few more people than we're used to having because we've had to change things up. Our children cannot grab their own silverware. They cannot serve themselves at the salad bar. They can't get their own milk, and they can't get themselves condiments. We have to have someone with gloves and a mask on serving them. So we have a lot of helpers.

MARTIN: Trish primarily works as a dishwasher, and her station is pretty exposed. Students walk right up to her window and hand her dirty plates and utensils. So she decided to get creative.

CAMPA: We actually made with a shower curtain and hooks and Velcro a guard, a shield, which I do feel safer with that. I feel like if somebody had a cough or a sneeze, then I'd be fine. And for some reason, that does usually happen when (laughter) they come to my window. And we've always had, like, Plexiglass in our serving line. And they have set the children four at a table instead of eight at a table. They've removed some of the chairs and added more tables and tried to spread the kids out more.

MARTIN: Most of the students wear masks, but some older students don't. At the moment, masks are optional at Trish's school. And we asked her how it made her feel to see maskless people in her cafeteria.

CAMPA: At first, because I was just holed up for the summer, I was a little perturbed. But I just came to the realization that you're not going to force people to wear masks. They don't fear it like you fear it. And the only thing I can do is wear one myself. And I think if a few people wear them, it might just help. So I'm just doing my part (laughter).

MARTIN: That was Trish Campa. She's a public school cafeteria worker in Palmer, Neb., on her New Normal. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.