by Thomas Hochman
Some stories inexplicably never make it to the public. I figure that this one should be told before it’s forgotten.
Every summer, members of the Bon Appétit staff are forced to take on a second job or file for unemployment before returning to OES in the fall.
It’s often tough to scrape by for those who have to support a family off of a minimum-wage job that only runs 42 weeks out of the year, but the turnover within the staff is not actually that fast. Why? “I think they come back for the community,” says Kelly Cowing, Bon Appétit’s general manager at OES. “They somehow find a balance that allows them to come back.”
But every vacation day is an additional stressor, and with snow days plaguing the school this year, that balance was even harder to find.
That’s an important thing to remember — while snow days serve as little more than a mild annoyance to most of us at OES for whom waking up to icy roads outside is a good thing, its effects are felt in a very real way by lower income families.
More than half of Oregon public school students qualify for subsidized meal plans, which means that they rely on free lunch (and sometimes breakfast, too) at school. So during the snow days, while we were cooped up complaining about the frustrations of the Remote Learning Protocol, kids in nearby neighborhoods were skipping meals.
And, stuck like the rest of us, most of Bon Appétit wasn’t working. Except, of course, for Noe who, knowing that the dorm students would still be in need of meals, got in his 1987 Toyota and drove to school as the first signs of the incoming snowstorm started to appear.
“I knew no one would do lunch, so I came by and did lunch for the kids,” Noe says. “Then I made dinner. After dinner, the weather was still crazy so I thought to myself, ‘Hey, I might as well just stay here.’”
So with the help of a few faculty members, Noe rolled a couch into the office and spent the night sleeping under a blanket that OES had given him.
The next day, he woke up and did it all over again. For three days.
This winter, Noe has spent six days and four nights sleeping on couches at school just so that the dorm students have something to eat from the cafeteria.
Not that he seemed to mind too much, though. “I pulled a TV out of one of the rooms and I got some Spanish movies out of María’s office. I just watched Spanish films every night after I got off work.”
And when he finally decided to head home, Noe’s car was frozen, explaining that he spent an hour pouring cold water on its icy rims before it finally started working.
While Noe got home fine in the snowstorm, he never had to be here in the first place. He could’ve stayed at home like the rest of the city, or he could have gone home after a day.
But people like Noe and the Bon Appétit staff make the world go ‘round. And we don’t realize how important they are, and how lucky we are to have a group of people who often turn down the prospect of more stable jobs to come back to OES each year.
So remember to have perspective when it comes to the people that are working to make our lives better each and every day.
Thanks for reading.