Anna Jarossi: NYC Cafeteria Manager, Grandmother, and Hunger Hero

March 16, 2021

Anna Jarossi: NYC Cafeteria Manager, Grandmother, and Hunger Hero

By Rachel Sabella, No Kid Hungry NY Director

People often ask me, how did you get involved in this work? Why did you get involved in this work? There’s a few different answers to this question. I grew up in the suburbs of New York City, in a family committed to making a difference and giving children opportunities – I watched my parents run programs throughout the community so kids could play sports and be a scout. I was brought to the State Capitol in Albany as a seventh grader to advocate for more funding for schools. I learned to give back and raise my voice to make a difference. But, if you ask why I am so passionate about recognizing hunger heroes and saying “thank you”? That’s easy, that’s because of my grandmother.

Anna (facing the camera, first on the left) and her colleagues feeding students at PS 236

My maternal grandmother, Anna Jarossi (known as Nanny to me and Annie to her friends and colleagues), worked as a cafeteria manager in the New York City public schools for more than 30 years – retiring just before her 75th birthday! She was a very proud member of Local 372, DC 37. Working primarily in schools throughout the borough of Brooklyn, she was responsible for cooking breakfast and lunch for the school community – hundreds of students each and every day. But she saw her role as so much more than that – she knew the students by name and loved to tell me stories about them. Who would ask for seconds or make jokes. Often, she just knew who needed a little extra attention that week. 

Rachel and her Nanny, Anna Jarossi

Nanny took such pride in her work in the New York City schools. She was in the cafeteria early each morning preparing meals for the children – following nutrition standards  (of course!) but also making sure the food tasted good and the kids enjoyed it. She also made lifelong friendships with the other cafeteria staff members and school leadership – they became a family, supporting each other through life’s ups and downs and supporting their students. She was very proud of the people who ate her food – from kids to teachers to custodians to her District Superintendent, who always made a point of visiting with her. Years later, we learned that Superintendent was the father of a dear family friend – who never knew the connection. My grandmother’s home and dining table was a place where everyone was welcomed – so was her school cafeteria, where everyone was also welcomed with a warm smile and meal.

Anna’s fellow cafeteria staff at PS 236 in Brooklyn in the 1960s

It’s because of this experience and visiting her in school cafeterias, that I felt so at home when we were able to visit school meal programs. I saw the long hours she put in, the classes to receive nutrition certifications, how much she cared about her students and the food she provided to them. It is also why it is especially important to me that we recognize school nutrition staff, emergency providers and all of the individuals across the state who make sure kids have regular access to meals. This is hard and important work – and an essential component in the battle against childhood hunger.

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to be launching the “New York Hunger Heroes Hall of Fame.” This is an opportunity to shine a light on the men and women, from every corner of New York State, who have been on the frontlines of the pandemic making sure kids had regular access to food. Cafeteria workers, pantry directors, so many more: it’s our honor to recognize these heroes. You can follow us on our blog or social media to learn more about these Hunger Heroes and the dedication they show to kids and families across the state of New York.

Thank you for letting me start the series with my own personal “Hunger Hero,” my grandmother.

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About No Kid Hungry

No child should go hungry in America. But in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, 1 in 5 kids in New York could face hunger. No Kid Hungry New York is working to end childhood hunger by helping launch and improve programs that give all kids the healthy food they need to thrive. This is a problem we know how to solve. No Kid Hungry New York is a campaign of Share Our Strength, an organization committed to ending hunger and poverty. Join us at NoKidHungry.org