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La Crosse Lunch Lady receives Jefferson Award for feeding more than students

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Mary Sterba helping a student get set up for lunch

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) - Mary Sterba is the lunch lady at State Road Elementary. She's also this month's Jefferson Award winner.

Mary starts work every day at five o'clock in the morning. She's also the last one to leave. The students think she lives at the school. Mary says she works so hard because there are a lot of kids in need.

"Just in our little school alone, we have 30 families that we're feeding. Every week I send home 13 - 15 backpacks. That's every week," said Mary.

Hearing about kids not having enough to eat is hard for Mary but she says since kids are so honest it makes helping them easier.

"Especially the elementary level kids. They are very honest. They do come up to me and say 'Miss Mary there's no food in my house,' or 'Miss Mary, can you help me out?'"

Mary's husband, Bill Sterba says giving has always been a way of life for his wife.

"It was even before the food. She's adopted families for Christmas and Easter. She's always buying gifts and dropping them off," said Bill.

"My family did it when I was growing up in Texas. I thought we were so wealthy and we really weren't, but there would be times I'd come home and we'd have people living in our camping trailer. My dad would be out fixing their car and making sure they had food in their car. That was just part of my bringing up. You just always make sure somebody has what we have," said Mary.

"She's selfless. She cares about everyone and she doesn't put herself first, ever. It's always who she can help. She has an affinity for the kids and the younger the better. She's just always been this way," said Bill.

Mary not only started a food pantry at the school and stocks a lot of it with her own supplies. She also established a share table, a place where students can put their unwanted food items for someone else to take. Mary says the table not only serves as a reminder not to waste food but it teaches the students to look out for each other.

Heather Armstrong

Heather anchors Live at 5 and co-anchors the weekday 6 & 10 PM newscasts

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