Cafeteria worker makes children smile

Published 10:16 pm Monday, June 19, 2017

A lifelong Suffolk resident has been serving hot meals to local youth for decades.

Vanessa Skinner has been a cafeteria worker in Suffolk Public Schools since 1991, working at Elephant’s Fork Elementary, Florence Bowser Elementary, Nansemond River High School and, since 2014, John F. Kennedy Middle School.

Since 2001, she’s been serving food for Suffolk’s Boys and Girls Club on top of her work schedule.

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“From 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. I belong to Suffolk Public Schools, and from 2 to the end of the night, I belong to the Boys and Girls Club,” Skinner said.

The Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore in Norfolk supplies food and drinks to the Boys and Girls Club Suffolk unit at John F. Kennedy Middle School for Kids Café. The national Capital Area Food Bank program provides after-school and summer meals to children ages 5 to 18.

Boys and Girls Club members enjoy a hot meal after classes during the school year. In the summer, the club serves up to two meals per day, and members invite any child in the community to join them.

“This program costs the children nothing, and during the summertime we are an open site,” said LaMarr Coles III, Boys & Girls Club of Southeast Virginia Suffolk Unit Director. “Children can come here and get a free breakfast and a free lunch.”

Skinner serves more than a hundred Boys & Girls Club children each meal, not including the non-member walk-ins. These kids enjoy burgers, pizza, turkey sandwiches, salad, fruit and anything else on the menu.

Skinner said one her favorite parts of preparing the food is knowing that none of it will go to waste.

“They get to eat until it’s all gone,” she said.

She greeted each child with an encouraging smile as she served meals at the school on Monday. Some of the kids are new to the program, while others have known Skinner for years and have come to call her “Grandma.”

“She’s very nice and very kind,” said 10-year-old Alivia Little. “She brings joy to the school.”

Skinner even served Coles and his sister, Christine Coles, more than a decade ago, when the two were students at John F. Kennedy Middle School.

“She’s always there when I need her, with a loving word and a hug,” LaMarr said. “It’s not just a job for her. She loves the kids.”

Skinner raised two boys of her own in Suffolk, both now adults.

Andre Skinner is the director of the Pruden Center, while his brother Marcus lives in Texas. Both are married with children of their own.

Skinner entertains questions from the kids as some of them walk through the kitchen. She’s also ready to call out any child that misbehaves, but at the same time make sure this is a place of fun and learning for all of them.

“This is a place of respect, discipline and learning how to get along with everybody,” Skinner said.

“And having fun. Always having fun.”