Chef Ronni on a mission to fill stomachs, fuel brains

Posted at 11:52 AM, Feb 11, 2021

RICHMOND, Va. -- During days of distance learning, the silence at St. Andrew's School in Richmond can be deafening.

No students, just empty classrooms and hallways.

But one corner of the school still hustles and bustles.

Well before the first bell rings, Ronnika "Chef Ronni" Fenner commands her kitchen with military precision.

“A lot of work on a daily basis. Planning. And checking my list. Checking it twice. Kind of like Santa Claus,” Chef Ronni said. “It has to look good before it tastes good.”

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Chef Ronni, 43, churns out meal after meal, Monday through Friday.

“I think about it all the time. I think about it overnight. I think about it during the day. What I need to prep,” Chef Ronni said.

She has never been tasked with a critical assignment like this. She is feeding students studying at home.

Her mission is to fill the stomach to fuel the brain.

“I found out that I do 288 meals a week,” Chef Ronni said.

The school auditorium doubles as a staging area.

Volunteers like Tracey Ragsdale pack to go breakfasts and lunches twice a week.

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On this day they’re packing chili, cornbread, and rice.

“She comes in here early by herself and can you imagine what this takes to put together,” Ragsdale said.

There is nothing virtual about what Chef Ronni whips up.

“They have an opportunity for fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, grains, protein, and milk,” Chef Ronni said.

Annette Foster said her grandson Ronald is thriving in third grade thanks to Chef Ronni.

“He admires her,” Foster said. “He admires the work she does.”

Volunteers deliver the food door to door across Richmond.

Grateful students like Tyrique Williams said Chef Ronni is alright in his book.

“It tastes pretty good. It tastes pretty good,” Tyrique said. “She is pretty funny. She is one of the cool kind of lunch ladies.”

“Our children love the breakfast and lunch experience,” Head of School Cyndy Weldon-Lassiter said. “She always striving to do something better. She is always striving to do her best.”

Chef Ronni is counting the days till she can cook for her boys and girls in person.

“Those high-energy kids that are all over the place I love them so much,” Chef Ronni said. “I’m very driven. I want to make sure kids are fed.”

Until then students can count on her menu, where kindness served with a side of affection is always the daily special.

Chef Ronni’s generosity goes beyond just her students. This Valentine’s Day she will make gift baskets for fellow cafeteria workers.

St. Andrew's School is holding a virtual “Shake with SAS” fundraiser on April 23 at 7 p.m. Click here for more information.

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