Monday to Friday, Leslie Williams arrives early for her job at Cleveland Street Elementary School’s lunchroom in Orange, New Jersey, where she helps prepare nutritious meals for the school’s 325 or so young students.
Saturday and Sunday, she keeps planning their meals. For Ms. Leslie, the school is not only her workplace, it’s her second home. “I love coming to school and hug my babies every morning. I love them like my own children and I want to be sure they eat proper food,” said this Orange native who has been working in the Orange School District for nearly 25 years.
As a veteran cook, Ms. Leslie knows that small children can be picky eaters – especially when it comes to eating vegetables. For the veggie-shy, she has a trick or two under her sleeve: “A lot of kids don’t like red onions but if you mix it with a salad they will be willing to try it. My children eat with their eye before they eat with their mouths,” she says with a smile.
Smiles abound in Cleveland Street School and Ms. Leslie knows that her union is part of the reason. “The whole district is organized and we are better off for it. Everybody should have a union. Unions open doors for employees. It gives us a voice. It gives you the power to change things that need to be changed. It gives us respect. It’s not always about a paycheck. If there’s a holiday, I want to take it like everyone else. If I get sick, I shouldn’t have to go to work and expose my babies.” For Ms. Leslie, it’s all about the kids.