Community Heroes: José Perez and the RFK Cafeteria Team

Cafeteria manager feeds students, staff, and families, supporting UCLA Community School's "Grab and Go" efforts.

Every morning since schools closed on March 13, José and his team have arrived at the RFK Community Schools before 6:00am to prepare about 5,000 meals for distribution. The school is one of the 64 “Grab and Go” Centers across Los Angeles–a collaboration among the Los Angeles Unified School District, the American Red Cross Los Angeles Region, and Los Angeles County Office of Emergency Management. Working with volunteers from across the school community, Jose leads his crew in meticulously preparing each individual bag to hold two nutritious meals for a child in the community.

One minute he might be unpacking salads and the next, directing Ronald or Iris to bring more milk. Volunteers appreciate the endless pot of coffee he has set up on a separate table, and treats some LAUSD alumni and employees would recognize, like the famous coffee cake and bean and cheese burritos. Taking a break here and there is an important aspect of the work. After all, this is a marathon, not a sprint.

José has worked at the school since it opened in 2010. During lunch you can find him talking to students, checking in with them, and supporting his crew. He is adamant about maintaining a space in the lounge for his team and is always ensuring everyone takes a break. He has held several tasting events where students and parents are invited to sample possible menu items that are incorporated into the Food Services offerings.

José appreciates the input of students and families. Parents appreciate the labor of love he pours into his cafeterias. He has also taken the time to share his success story with immigrant-origin students, who like him, have dreams of a better life. José was born in the Dominican Republic and emigrated to the United States when he was in elementary school.  

His good nature and collaborative spirit have been an inspiration to many. As Leyda Garcia, principal of the UCLA Community School notes, working with José means knowing almost 3,000 students will receive breakfast, lunch, and a hot supper every day. His passion to support the community is evident not just in the meals his team serves, but in his relationships with students. He has a soft spot for students with disabilities, whom he knows by name across all five secondary schools.

Stepping up to serve his community during this COVID-19 crisis, José represents the heart of the community schools movement. 

Above: José Perez manages the cafeteria for five LAUSD schools at the RFK Community Schools campus.

Courtesy of Karen Hunter Quartz