Ruby Allnut empties a tray of fries

Ruby Allnut has been working for the students of Stonewall Elementary School (Fayette County) for nearly 58 years. Photo by Crystal Sicard, Kentucky Department of Education, April 30, 2024

Fifty-eight years in September is how long Ruby Allnut has been serving a meal and a smile to the students at Stonewall Elementary School (Fayette County).

“I just love being around the people and the kids, I love all kids because they make me smile,” said Allnut.

And they love her too, making Allnut a School Lunch Hero.

School Lunch Hero Day is celebrated on May 3, celebrated annually since 2013, and was designated by the School Nutrition Association as an opportunity for parents, students, school staff and communities to thank those who provide healthy meals to nearly 30 million of America’s students each school day.

Allnut began her career as a cafeteria worker in 1966 when her son was attending Stonewall Elementary School.

Throughout the years, Allnut has seen many changes such as being required to wear dresses and making lunches from scratch.

“We had to make everything from scratch like vegetable soup and hot dog buns,” she said. “I loved baking peanut butter cookies.”

Cory Collett has been Allnut’s colleague for the past 10 years at Stonewall Elementary, but he first met her when he was one of the students she served many years ago.

“I knew her because she and my grandmother were friends,” said Collett. “She used to run the register every day and it was so nice being able to see a familiar face.”

Collett said he started in this industry because he wanted to be involved in the school district. Originally, he wanted to become a teacher so he could work hands-on with students but decided to take a position in the cafeteria and has loved it ever since.

“I wanted to be in the school system one way or another,” said Collett “There are a lot more benefits than people realize, retirement, insurance and good hours. No late nights, weekends or holidays, we do pretty good.”

According to the National School Lunch Program, in fiscal year 2023, about 486,970 meals were served to students across Kentucky schools. 

The School Nutrition Association reports that nearly one in five children in America live in households without consistent access to adequate food, with those students receiving their healthiest meals at school. From around 1964 to 2019, about 225 billion lunches have been served since the National School Lunch Act began in 1946, an act was signed into law by President Harry Truman to “safeguard the health and wellbeing of the Nation’s children and to encourage domestic consumption of nutritious agricultural commodities and other foods.”

Over the years, the way food is prepared and served and the nutritional requirements have changed, but one thing has not: Allnut’s reason for working in the cafeteria. She said it’s seeing the students each and every day that keeps her coming back. She enjoys watching the students grow throughout the years and eventually returning to visit her years later.

“They always say, ‘You’re still here,’” said Allnut. “The students who used to be in elementary school come back as parents and they eat with their kids and maybe sometimes even grandparents!”

Although students are Allnut’s main reason to continue in her career, she also said the staff and colleagues at Stonewall Elementary School have a special place in her heart.

“Everyone I work with here is like family to me, they are all so supportive,” she said.

Especially Collett, who went from being her former student to her colleague. He said it’s all come full circle and joining the nutrition team at Stonewall Elementary was easy to do knowing Allnutt was still there.

“I went to school here, so it was nice to come back of course,” said Collett. “I love being able to work with Ms. Ruby, it is such an honor.”  

Allnutt said she does not plan to retire anytime soon and hopes to continue at Stonewall Elementary for many years to come.