Cafeteria staff cooks up positive community


Sofia Oyarzún, co-images editor

After dropping her son off at South one morning in 2021, Ahlam Hijazin inquired about openings in South’s cafeteria. After some encouragement to apply, Hijazin started a new chapter at Quest Food Management Services in South’s cafeteria as a Food Service Worker. 

Quest Food provides meals for students both in and out of District 225, Hijazin said. The Quest team at South is made up of staff members that work before, during, and after school to maintain excellent service and food quality, while forming a community in the process, Hijazin explained.

“My interview felt like I’ve been [at South] before [because] everyone was welcoming [and] I was really happy,” Hijazin said. 

Hijazin’s long-lasting passion for cooking is what sparked her initial interest in the job. Previously, she worked as a chef in a daycare that closed abruptly due to the pandemic.  She found a welcoming community at South, Hijazin explained.

“I’ve loved [to cook] ever since I was little,” Hijazin said. “I used to watch my mom cook and I fell in love with it. I love to care [for] and feed people.” 

Pursuing her interest in the kitchen has also brought Hijazin a great sense of community, for she has similar interests with her coworkers. Angelina Toscano, Food Service Worker, shares a similar warmth in finding a community at South through Quest Food in 2021 after working as a Certified Nursing Assistant for 17 years. 

“I love to cook all the time,” Toscano said. “[I like to cook] at my house, and I like [cooking at South]. When I come [to South], everybody’s like a family, [there are] never any problems.” 

The bonds formed within the Quest Food staff also contribute to the staff’s determination to provide more than adequate breakfast and lunch to high school students, Tim Almy, General Manager for Quest Food Management Services, explained. 

“[Quest Food] truly is a family, and the quality of food surpasses all other organizations,” Almy said. “Each day, we [ask ourselves] how [we can] make the experience better than yesterday.”

A challenge for the lunchroom staff that they were able to overcome was finding a meal that everyone with different food preferences can enjoy, Almy explained. 

“A challenge with feeding [such] a large student body is that it is so diverse,” Almy said. “That’s why we offer so many different varieties of foods and why we try to make our [menu and] food experience appealing to everybody.”

Another skill that those working in the kitchen hold is the ability to adapt to the unique work environments presented to them every day, Toscano explained. 

“My station changes every day, and sometimes the kids like [different things] more than others,” Toscano said. “I do my job the best that I can for the kids.”

 This goal shared among the Quest Food employees keeps everyone driven to create a positive experience when providing students with meals, Almy said. The staff’s unbreakable bond makes for an efficient service, he added.

“I came to Quest because it’s unique above all other companies,” Almy said. “My biggest takeaway [is] that each day, we look to be better and better here.”