Deborah Dempsey removes lunch from oven

Bellmore-Merrick School District Cafeteria/Custodial Unit Recording Secretary Deborah Dempsey removes lunch from the oven.

MERRICK — It has been a long, busy year for CSEA Bellmore-Merrick School District Cafeteria/Custodial Unit members who are based at Sanford H. Calhoun High School.

With more than 1,000 students enrolled at the school, work is never in short supply.


Keeping the building clean and safe

Martin Roman


“Throughout the day, we get calls about custodial needs around the school,” said Calhoun High School Custodial Supervisor and CSEA member Martin Roman. “We’re working on clogged [toilet]bowls, moving furniture, cleaning, setting up for events and whatever other projects we get calls for. Anything we can’t handle, we call maintenance for their assistance.”

A typical day begins with opening the school gates, turning on the lights and assisting the cafeteria staff with food they need transferred from the school freezer to the cafeteria.

Bellmore-Merrick School District Custodians Jeremy Rooney and Jimmy Jutt

Bellmore-Merrick School District Custodians Jeremy Rooney and Jimmy Jutt transfer chairs to the auditorium for a school event.

If it is the spring or the summer, custodial workers focus more on the sports fields, which need maintenance for sporting activities.

The high school’s custodial team plays a key role in managing major construction projects, including the school’s fashion show.

“We build a runway in the shape of a ‘t’ in the school gym where the fashion show is held,” said Roman.

The construction, in addition to transferring 300 chairs into the gym, preparing the bleachers for attendees and running lights around the stage, is an incredible amount of labor.

And when school lets out for summer, the custodial staff buckles down on numerous projects. They are now gearing up for the summer work, which includes cleaning the school from top to bottom, and scrubbing and waxing the floors.


Feeding healthy meals

Bellmore-Merrick School District Cafeteria Worker Lisa Enoch

Bellmore-Merrick School District Cafeteria Worker Lisa Enoch organizes the drinks and snacks.

CSEA members who work on the Calhoun High School cafeteria staff also work nonstop. They are on their feet all day, preparing breakfast and lunch for students.

“It’s go time the second we walk in,” said Bellmore-Merrick School District Cafeteria/Custodial Unit Recording Secretary Deborah Dempsey. “We’re cooking and setting up food and drinks.”

According to studies, eating breakfast in the morning improves children’s academic performance.
For children in the community who face food insecurity, the free meals being offered at the school may be the only full meals they get that day.

After 20 years of working in Calhoun High School’s cafeteria, Dempsey is well aware of the effort it takes to feed more than 250 children who eat breakfast at the school every morning.

“Because of COVID, breakfast and lunch have been free to the students both this year and last year,” said Dempsey. “There are also food-[insecure]children whose families have to fill out paperwork so their children can always get meals for free.”

The cafeteria staff get a sense of satisfaction knowing they have helped children facing food insecurity.

“It’s really rewarding for the cafeteria staff to know that our work helps children in the community in that way,” said Dempsey. “We really love what we do here.”

The vast majority of the custodial and cafeteria staff both live and work in the community. Their children have attended Calhoun High School, as many of the school workers did in their youth. For these members, it’s easy to recognize the importance of the work they do when they are personally affected by it.

“For me, this school is my second home,” said Roman. “Everything we do at this school, we approach by asking ourselves what we would do if it were our own children or relative being affected. We live in this community, so we want this school to be as safe and welcoming as possible.”

— Wendi Bowie


About Author

Wendi Bowie is an award-winning journalist who has focused the majority of her career on covering Long Island news. Her efforts have earned her the Press Club of Long Island Media Award for Public Affairs and the Long Island Coalition for Fair Broadcasting Folio Award. Wendi was drawn to her current position as Communications Specialist for CSEA’s Long Island Region because it speaks to her strong desire to champion the rights of the common man and woman.

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