Gubser Elementary School student Megan Johnson serves up bread sticks with marinara as part of the Sodexo student server program. Students volunteer for the opportunity. (Keizertimes/ERIC A. HOWALD)

Of the Keizertimes

Every week, students throughout the school district don gloves and hair nets to sling burgers, pizza and whatever else comes from the depths of their cafeteria.

But, the program has become much more than an opportunity to dole out pineapple chunks and roasted veggies. For the students who volunteer to serve their peers, it is a test of their particular food’s popularity.

“You have to go quick sometimes and faster if what you’re serving is most popular,” said Haley Areal, a Gubser Elementary School third grader and recent lunch server volunteer.

The most popular items hands-down is pizza, said Isaiah Petilo, who has volunteered to serve lunches every year since first grade. The worst?

“Sandwiches, because no body picks them,” he said.

The long-running food server program, run by Sodexo, which supplies food services to Salem-Keizer public schools, is intended to be something more even if it’s youngest participants aren’t always aware of it, said Terri Tjulander, a Sodexo food service manager.

“It teaches the kids how to serve each other and teaches them responsibility,” Tjulander said.

Individual schools decide which classes get to volunteer each week, but the students themselves volunteer for the honor. Sodexo employees supervise each student as they serve up the daily entrees.

“This year we’ve changed the menu a lot. We have a lot more vegetables and we’re encouraging parents to come and check out the new menu options and see what’s different from when they went to school,” Tjulander said.

Ethan Patterson missed volunteering to serve lunch as a second grader so he eagerly jumped at the opportunity to do it last week.

“You don’t miss lunch and you get to volunteer and have fun with friends while you do it,” Patterson said.