Barbara Bishop and Carol Laster believe cooking food for others can be an expression of love, and when you cook for hundreds of people a day, there’s a lot of love to go around.
Bishop, 63, and Laster, 61, both of Manhattan, have each worked in the Flint Hills Job Corps Center’s kitchen for more than 20 years.
Bishop began working part time at the Job Corps, a technical education training program, in 1997 after she retired from the military. She and her husband became stationed at Fort Riley in 1991, though both are from Arkansas, and have stayed in the area over since. Over the years, Bishop eventually worked up to becoming the kitchen manager.
Laster, the lead cook, initially began working at the Job Corps around 1993. The Baltimore, Maryland, native said she initially moved to the area in the early 90s to be closer to a family member. There were a couple years in between that she worked elsewhere, she said, but she returned to the Job Corps afterward.
Bishop is responsible for overseeing the overall management of the kitchen and helping where needed, and Laster executes the ideas and day-to-day cooking with the help of four other kitchen staff.
“We have students here from all walks of life and most will tell me what they like to eat or what they eat in their country, and they just give me a recipe,” Laster said. “They just give me an idea for it and I just research and make it.”
Before the pandemic, the kitchen staff served about 600 people a day for breakfast, lunch, dinners and snacks. Now, however, they serve about 75 because fewer students are living on campus. While Bishop said she can’t wait to reopen fully and see everyone, she is taking advantage of the slower pace to regain her bearings and prepare for the future.
After years of working alongside each other, Bishop said she and Laster have created an unspoken rhythm together.
“You know when they say a couple that’s been working for so long, they pretty much know what each other’s thinking? We’re quite connected as that goes,” Bishop said. “If I need to be gone for a while, I know that things are going to be taken care of. And I know that when Carol needs a break, she can get a break and things are still happening in the kitchen because I’m here to make sure we’re covered. I’m so thankful and grateful for her.”
Laster agreed and said Bishop has likewise taught her several things through the years and helps give her confidence, like when she’s not sure she can pull off a new recipe.
Laster and Bishop said the students have always been the heart of why continue to do what they do.
As a foster parent herself, Laster knows how important forming positive relationships are, and she said she views the students as her own children. She said she and Bishop try to go out of their way to help students with little requests, like picking up candy or clothing items, when they can because she knows how much those acts mean to them.
“What keeps me coming is that I know that we’re here to help change lives and we have seen so many young people’s lives change,” Bishop said. “I look forward to when we actually reopen and bring students back.”
“There’s a lot of students here from all walks of life,” Laster added. “… A lot of these kids are really, really smart, and they teach me something every day. When I know what I know and what they know, that’s kind of like love, and that makes family.”