Years ago, Gwendolyn Robinson found herself assigned to the dietary department of New Community as part of a welfare-to-work program, despite having imagined herself in a different line of work.
Robinson had wanted to work in childcare but at the time, no spots were open. However, she made the best of her situation and learned the ins and outs of the kitchen as a dietary aide at New Community Extended Care Facility. Nearly 18 years later, Robinson is a veteran of the kitchen, where she has handled every role with grace, according to those around her.
“She comes in and does whatever it takes,” said Director Jackie Henry, who is Robinson’s supervisor. Henry recalled a snowstorm in January when public transportation was paralyzed and Robinson walked to work in the pre-dawn hours to ensure that the 24-hour skilled nursing facility could fully function with all its necessary parts, including the kitchen.
“She deserves to be employee of the month for dietary,” Henry said.
Her colleague, Culinary Arts Specialist Program Instructor Jonathan Butler, noted that Robinson’s years of experience span all roles—from cooking to dishwashing and everything in between. He described Robinson’s demeanor as “cheerful and sweet.”
For Robinson, each morning starts with arriving at 6 a.m. and making toast and preparing hot cereal. For the residents’ meals, she reviews each meal ticket, which details the dietary requirements and preferences of each person being served. Some plates must be prepared low-fat, others low-sodium. Some residents do not eat fish. Others must have their solid food pureed or finely chopped for safe consumption.
“Once you get the swing of it, it’s pretty easy,” she said of each customized dietary plan. In between handling breakfast and lunch, she chops salad, prepares bread and completes numerous other tasks.
Robinson was one of 11 siblings who grew up in Somerset, S.C., where she lived until age 20. She then moved to the Bronx and later to upstate New York, where she stayed for a few years with her sisters. Robinson relocated to New Jersey in her early 20s and worked at a factory in East Orange for more than 12 years, until the company went out of business.
Afterwards, she worked a stint at her brother’s bar in Orange, called Lou Gary’s, where she was a barmaid and manager.
Robinson, 64, has six grown children and 10 grandchildren. Her husband passed away in 2008. Previously, Robinson said that she cooked for her large family seven days a week but three years after her husband died, she said she scaled back. One of her signature dishes is spareribs. In her free time, Robinson hits the casinos.
Prior to her role at Extended Care, Robinson had some food service work under her belt working at truck stop restaurants as a waitress, cook and dishwasher.