Schools call on Vermont National Guard to serve lunch

Some parents feel military presence ‘inappropriate’

By Kim Howard
Observer correspondent

Third grader Laura Gerry and fourth grader Michael Howell noticed the people in uniform serving hot food in the Williston Central School cafeteria on Wednesday, even though they didn’t buy lunch.

“It was pretty cool,” Laura said, referring to the Vermont National Guard personnel who had dished out baked chicken, garlic mashed potatoes and green beans.

Michael agreed it was cool “because they’re from the army,” he said.

Four members of the Vermont Army National Guard and two Vermont Air National Guardsmen joined forces with school lunch employees on Wednesday to serve lunch in Williston’s public schools. Students were invited through the school newsletter to donate snacks and supplies to send to troops overseas.

“It was just sort of a brainstorming of a fun thing we can do in the cafeteria to pique interest for the kids to go through the lunch line,” Williston School Board member Laura Gigliotti said.

Gigliotti helped organize Wednesday’s “Honoring our men and women in the military” day with Lydia King, the school’s food service director.

Piquing interest in the school’s food service program is fiscally desirable. School food service programs often do not break even financially, according to Williston Central School Principal Jackie Parks, and Williston’s is no exception. While school boards typically can expect to allocate $25,000 to keep a school lunch program afloat, Parks said, the Williston program is projected to be at a $50,000 to $60,000 loss this year.

“We’re doing all sorts of different days and programs in the lunch room to generate interest,” Parks said.

In previous years, school officials said, members of Williston’s police and fire and rescue departments have served lunch on “heroes” days. Inviting service men and women was another approach.

Williston School Board member Keith Roy, a member of the Vermont Army National Guard, told Gigliotti recently that a package he’d received from children in Milton schools when he was overseas meant a great deal to him. Wednesday’s event, Gigliotti added, “was a way to teach our children what it means to support our troops,” some of whom are school parents and neighbors.

A few parents saw the event differently, however.

“It’s a misguided and inappropriate method of showing support for the military,” said Jill Carberry, parent of a second grader at Williston Central. “I don’t think the kids will be able to differentiate between supporting the military and supporting the war. I do not support the war, nor does my family.”

Hannah Rabin and her husband Gil Theriault, parents of students in the second and eighth grades, concurred.

“If people want to show support for the troops, they should do that at home and outside of the school,” Rabin said. “If the school wants to bring up issues about the military and the war, then that should be done in the setting of the classroom in the curriculum with really balanced perspectives.”

Both families emphasize their respect of and support for the troops; Theriault’s brother is currently serving overseas in the Air Force. For these families, supporting the troops means seeing them come home safely as soon as possible, they said.

While their peers ate in the cafeteria Wednesday, second graders Eliza Fehrs and Lucien Theriault sat in their classroom happily munching on cheese pizza, carrots, waffle cookies and milk with Rabin, Lucien’s mom. Both children knew why they were eating there rather than the cafeteria.

“My mom wants (the troops) to come home,” Eliza said, referring to Carberry. “She doesn’t want me to buy lunch because I’m not supporting the war.”

Both children said they think the fighting should stop, though they didn’t like the idea of having a class discussion about it.

“School’s just not really a good place for war. School’s a place for peace,” Lucien explained.

Gigliotti said only two families had expressed concern over the event; the rest of the feedback, she said, has been “overwhelmingly” positive.

Steve Casale, parent of a second grader and fifth grader, said he supported the lunch program “without question.”

“I think it’s actually overdue. Not to quote Jack Nicholson, but we sleep soundly under that blanket of freedom they provide every night,” Casale said, referring to a line in the movie “A Few Good Men.” “The fact that we’re sharing what their sacrifice means to our children is honorable.”

After the first wave of children went through the lunch line at Williston Central Wednesday, Vermont Air National Guard Major Rick Shebib and Lt. Col. Steve Lambrecht sat together in the cafeteria eating their lunch.

Lambrecht, a Williston resident, said it was fun to watch the kids come through the line since he knew so many of them from his wife’s day care. Thinking back to his own school lunch days of “hot dogs and mystery something,” Lambrecht praised Wednesday’s lunch options: “We didn’t have lunch like this when I was a kid.”