A 70-year-old dinner lady from Belfast has no plans to hang up her apron, after serving up lunches at the same school for the past 40 years.
Aptly named Sandra Kitchen has dished out 780,000 meals to hungry pupils at Blythefield Primary School, off Sandy Row in south Belfast, since 1976.
The long-serving grandmother has been a familiar face to several generations of the same families at the school over the years.
And yesterday, pupils, staff and Mrs Kitchen’s family – including her husband Jackie and daughter Jacqueline – got together for a celebration to recognise four decades of dedication.
The unsuspecting pensioner arrived in school yesterday morning to be treated to a special assembly in her honour, with pupils showing their affection by reading out poems they had written as a tribute to her.
An emotional Mrs Kitchen told the News Letter: “To be honest I had completely forgotten that this was my 40th anniversary at the school. Everyone kept it very quiet and I thought it was just another day, so it came as a huge surprise.
“I was presented with a lovely bouquet of flowers, a cake and a hotel voucher.
“It was very touching and I was moved by the gesture.”
Mrs Kitchen, a former pupil of Blythefield PS, started her working life in a factory, where she almost got the sack after taking a forklift truck for a ride and crashing it into the supervisor’s office.
And when she took the job as dinner lady at the age of 30, little did she suspect that she would still be serving up lunches four decades later.
“I love what I do,” she added.
“I have so many happy memories at the school and I love interacting with the children every day.
“I have no intentions of stopping any time soon. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself – even if I did retire I would probably find myself coming back to serve lunches!”
Principal Catherine Roulston described Mrs Kitchen as a “very special lady who deserves recognition of her achievement”.
The head teacher added: “She is 70 years old and still going strong.
“We worked out that she has served 780,000 dinners – about 100 a day – over the years, which is incredible when you think about it.
“We wanted to have a special celebration in the school to show our gratitude for her service over the years. It was an emotional day and shows how well liked she is.”