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Teachers volunteer as cafeteria workers after kitchen staff quarantined

A cafeteria worker tested positive, sending all other workers in quarantine in Mountain Pine. Teachers and staff are volunteering to help serve meals.

MOUNTAIN PINE, Ark. — A cafeteria worker sick with COVID-19 forced the entire kitchen staff at tiny Mountain Pine School District into quarantine, but administrators shuffled staff to keep serving meals and keep students in class.

"There's a lot of poverty here so sometimes the two meals that they eat here are the two meals that they get," said Denise Smith, the Garland County District's curriculum director, but on Tuesday, was cooking food for those students.

Smith and Superintendent Bob Applegate coordinated with staff on hand Friday when the worker reported feeling ill and her virus test returned positive. 

Smith, who serves as the district's point-of-contact with the state health department, says she had to come up plan quickly when the entire staff had to be sent home for 14 days.

"Really, shutting it down was only a fleeting thought," she said "We were, like, 'what are we gonna do?' But then we were like 'we can do this. We can do this. It's a short period of time and we can do this.'"

A half-dozen teachers' aids, custodians, counselors and volunteers took on Taco Tuesday (well, actually nacho Tuesday). More volunteers are on the way.

"I was kinda concerned about what they were going to do," said Matt Engebretson, a volunteer from the VFW post in nearby Hot Springs and the husband of the elementary school principal. 

"They got together and they had a plan in place before really even the dust settled."

Smith says church groups are already signed up to help next week to help keep the approximately 460 kids who signed up for in-school instruction safely in class.

"We want our kids here because we've missed them and we know that they need to come to school," she said. "We're going to make sure the kids are fed, and happy and healthy and safe. That's our top priority."

And fed with a touch of gourmet style. 

Smith will get help with a chicken spaghetti recipe on Wednesday's menu from one of her two sons who are both chefs.

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