MIDDLETOWN, Conn. (WTNH) – Feeding the school community is a massive operation that never stopped during the pandemic. It’s estimated that free meals at school save families $800 a year.

On Friday, cafeteria workers were celebrated for never stopping during two unprecedented years.

Emanuela Pizzuto has been cooking up school lunches for 20 years. Then in mid-March 2020, the school shut down, but her work of feeding the school community never stopped.

“I was the first one that said, ‘I will do it’ and I wanted to help everyone, and we did it. I worked hard, but I’m happy that I did it,” Pizzuto said.

The School Nutrition Association deemed Friday School Lunch Hero Day. At Middletown’s Snow School, Principal Colleen Fitzpatrick took the opportunity to celebrate a crew that has taken on more work during the pandemic but never misses a beat.

“They actually never stopped working. Many people think during COVID, schools shut down completely and everybody was home. They were not,” Fitzpatrick said.

From just cooking lunches to now adding breakfast and an afternoon snack, the workload has certainly increased.

“It’s a lot more lunches we serve now,” Pizzuto said.

Across Middletown schools, cafeteria workers serve some 3,000 lunches, 1,200 breakfasts, and 500 snacks daily. Food services director Randall Mel says the operation is comparable to running the largest restaurant in town, open five days a week.

“They have adapted greatly to every challenge that’s come before them. With COVID, and now in the past year with students fully coming back and the students being offered free meals across the board district-wide, so they’re serving more meals than ever,” Mel said.