In Search Of…A Super Lunch Hero!

Beloved lunch lady in La Crosse honored for her years of service

When the early morning bus arrives at Spence Elementary School in La Crosse, the kids file out, eager to file in. Sure they are hungry for breakfast, but they are also craving the attention they get from the woman who serves it.

For years, Debbie Clements has been as much a stable in this cafeteria as the food she makes.

“She has the passion for food service,” said Spence Elementary Cook Manager Shelly Abraham. “You have to like children to be in this business.”

And the kids agree she is Top Chef! “She’s a really hard worker. The food is always great.” “She’s great at serving, she’s kind, really nice.” “She’s funny, kid and makes people laugh all the time. It makes everyone else smile during lunch and breakfast.”

Clements’ day starts at 6 a.m.

“I serve breakfast and then do dishes or whatever they need, then we do the cooking. And then it’s getting close to lunch time and you punch the children through or serve,” Clements said. “Then my days almost over and I’m done at 2.”

Being in this line of work certainly isn’t always easy.

“It’s a lot of lifting and prepping,” Abraham said.

“These are the silent warriors of a school district,” adds Lyn Halvorson, Supervisor of School Nutrition. “They have a passion for kids and want to make sure the kids are ready to learn when they enter the classroom. They work really hard in hot conditions and so you have to love the work that you do or you wouldn’t be a school lunch lady.”

But watch Clements for any time and it’s easy to see this job doesn’t really feel like a job at all.

“I love coming to work,” Clements said. “I try to have a smile on my face cause sometimes they’re not happy.”

She genuinely cares about each and every one of the students that come to her lunchroom which may explain why the students are so drawn to her. She is regularly greeted with a healthy serving of hugs.

“She’s so humble and so genuine,” Halvorson said. “The relationship she has with the kids is magical. It’s magic. When she relates to a child they reach out in the same way. I don’t know if she gets more hugs or gives more hugs. It is a mutual adoration back and forth.”

“I have to come in here every morning and afternoon to give her hugs because she’s so sweet,” said a Spence 5th grader.

Halvorson adds, “She has a tender word to say about every child and knows their life circumstance. She knows kids that might be having difficulties. She will ask “hows your parent or your dog? She interacts with every child and I’m in awe of her.”

When the students and staff heard about “School Lunch Hero Day,” they wanted to share with the rest of us what they have known all along.

They armed her with a superhero cape, shield and superhero spatula.

“I wish we could clone her for every building because she is the epitome of what you want your children to interact with during the school day,” said Halvorson. “You would be so proud to have your child being with them and watching her tender treatment. She is our school lunch super hero.”