Cafeteria theft continues despite downward trend


Photo Credit: Isis Kirkland

The cafeteria lunch line where all of the merchandise is held. Lantieri’s office, where he monitors the line, is behind the counter, out of frame.

by Isis Kirkland, Staff Writer

*Student names have been changed in this article

A student peeks over his shoulder and scans around: no teacher in sight. He slides the water bottle into his backpack slyly, hoping no one sees.

Although one may not realize it, petty crimes happen in the school frequently in the form of theft.

“I’m guessing they would just put it [the food item] in their pocket or backpack,” freshman Morgan Murray said, although she has never seen anyone commit the crime.

Theft has two major tangible side effects for student: Stealing causes food prices to rise in attempt to make back the stolen profits. Stealing from the cafeteria could also necessitate teachers supervising the lunch line, causing more traffic in an already crowded area.

While stealing isn’t as prevalent as it was in years past, theft still occurs a few times in a month.

John Lantieri, food service director, has caught students in the act.

A favorite product among thieves are drinks: waters, and sodas. They walk through the lunch line, grab a drink, and stuff it into their lunchbox or hoodie when they think nobody’s looking.

Yet cafeteria prices are relatively low, and if children can’t afford lunch, they have the opportunity for apply for free lunch. So, why are the kids still stealing?

Lantieri says that kids are stealing to have fun with friends, not because they can’t afford food. “I don’t think it’s that [price change] because the prices are preset during the summer and the board agrees,” Lantieri said. “The new price lists are posted, and they see what it is.”

Lantieri works for Pomptonian food service and runs the school lunch program for the district of Glen Rock. He says that not every kid he catches is stealing intentionally.

“Sometimes they don’t intend on it. They’ll have a knapsack and they’re carrying their food and put their bottle of water in the knapsack on the side, and they forget to take it out at the register. It happens!”

This was not the case with Joe Johnson, though. Johnson stole a Rice Krispies Treat from the cafeteria once.

“I did it on purpose,” he admitted.

Johnson’s main reason for stealing was the price of the Rice Krispies Treat.

“I didn’t know they raised the price, and I didn’t have enough money to pay for it,” he said. He said that he also stole because he figured it wouldn’t make a difference to sales since it was inexpensive.

“I realized I didn’t have enough money for it. So, I said ‘oh, never mind,’ stepped off the line and waited a minute to see if I had an extra quarter to pay for it,” Johnson said. “When I found out I didn’t have a quarter, I just walked out with the Rice Krispies Treat. It was easy.”

Lantieri catches kids stealing once or twice a month, but he didn’t catch Johnson.

When Lantieri catches students attempting to take an item without paying, he often just takes the item back. He rarely alerts the principal or sends kids to the office.

In fact, he’s only taken a kid to the office one time.

“The kid was so apologetic,” Lantieri said.  “He never stole anything again, but I brought it to John’s attention.”

When Lantieri first started working in the district six years ago, teachers used to stand in the lunch line to monitor kids and make sure they weren’t stealing.

He got involved in making sure kids weren’t stealing because big problems started emerging.

“It was a free-for-all,” Lantieri said. “The kids were trying to get away with a water or a soda or something.”

Eventually the kids stopped stealing. Lantieri attributes this stop to maturity and respect.

“I caught kids early on. As they matured and got older, they kinda respected it. They see me. They’re friendly, so it curtailed,” Lantieri said.

In the future, if the free-for-alls start occurring again, then Lantieri says he’s going to take action. If theft starts picking up, he plans on having a conference with the principals, who would then task a few teachers to watch the lunch line once again.

Yet even after all the years he’s been here, theft hasn’t changed the way he feels about the kids who buy lunch.

“I really warm up to these kids, they’re great kids, they really are. There’s a couple of bad apples in every school, but overall I’d say the kids are great and I love serving them and cooking,” Lantieri said.