1.4 million meals and 756,000 hugs later, Sandwith and Smith retire from school district food services

Top photo, Sharon Sandwith is presented with a clock plaque from School Board President Boyd Pratt, upon her retirement from the school district
Top photo, Sharon Sandwith is presented with a clock plaque from School Board President Boyd Pratt, upon her retirement from the school district's food services department. Donna Smith, who also retired, looks on. Bottom photo, Sandwith talks to well-wishers Fred Woods, high school principal; and Janelle Teasdale, elementary school teacher.
— image credit: Richard Walker

If the school district could somehow figure out a way to franchise Sharon Sandwith and Donna Smith, its financial woes might be over.

San Juan Island School Board President Boyd Pratt did some figuring, and determined that the two served 1.4 million meals — including 32 tons of hamburger, 39,600 heads of lettuce and 5,200 sheetcakes — to 23,400 students over the course of their food service careers at Friday Harbor High School.

Oh, and they gave a total of 756,000 hugs too. Try and top that, Ray Kroc.

Tears were shed and memories shared Wednesday at the retirement celebration for Sandwith and Smith, who gave a combined 33 years of service to student nutrition. The public event in the high school library preceded the school board meeting.

Sandwith worked for 22 years in food service, lastly as the director. She also spent time as a special education paraprofessional. She decided to retire and yield the kitchen to the Experience Food Project, which is working to incorporate locally grown foods into daily menus.

Sandwith said she'll miss the children most — and she knew a lot of children, in some cases two generations of families.

Rebekah Deitz graduated from Friday Harbor High School in 1992. Sandwith fed her from grades 8-12 and, until Sandwith retired, fed her children.

"It means a lot more to me now," Deitz said of Sandwith's service. "I know whether (my children) are eating their vegetables or not. As a parent, I get the inside scoop."

Deitz said Sandwith and other kitchen crew members represent continuity and stability at the school. Since the 1970s, only a handful of people have worked in food services, among them Marie Greenfield, Doris Hartman and Joan Johnson.

"As a student, predictably, they were there. It was noticed when they weren't," Deitz said. (Asked if her parents got the inside scoop on whether she ate her vegetables, Deitz thought a moment and said, "That's a good question.")

Food services is not an easy job. Sandwith got up five days a week at 4:30 a.m. and was at work by 6:30. When she became food services director in fall 1999, her arrival time bumped up to 5:30.

She enjoyed the challenge of ordering food and coordinating menus. "Government guidelines," she said when asked what most people didn't know about her job. "It's not just fixing meals, it's balancing (nutrition). Most people don't realize how difficult it is."

Mother-in-law Mildred Sandwith said Sharon's love for the island's children is sincere. "She lives Christ in her life. She is a thoughtful, loving, forgiving person. She's the heart and soul of our family."

Smith said she's still getting used to the fact that when her internal clock jolts her awake in the morning, she can roll over and go back to sleep. She worked in food services for 11 years and is moving to The Dalles, Ore.

Smith will remember throwing grapes at then-principal Ralph Hahn and dressing as a witch at Halloween and no one knowing who she was.

Pratt, the school board president, told of walking the hallway and looking at the graduation pictures of all the students with whom Sandwith and Smith had personal contact on a daily basis. It was a long walk, he said.

He pointed out that the total number of students is about three times the current population of the island, knowing each of those students, amazing the personal contact they've had.

"They really wanted to provide a sense of home," said Pratt, whose four children attended local schools. "It wasn't an institutional cafeteria, it was mom's kitchen. Along with the food went an attitude of loving kindness, a one-on-one contact with the kids."

Reminding Sandwith and Smith of all those hugs and all those children over the years, he said, "Thank you. I hope you feel all those hugs."

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