All Joyce Stratford wanted every day at South Pointe High School, after arriving in the dark at 6 a.m. to run the cafeteria, was for every kid to be fed.
A hungry kid was a distracted kid. A hungry kid could not learn math.
She knew the kids who had no money in their pockets, who came from places where there wasn't a dollar and change to eat with.
They all ate, in her cafeteria. Her own daughter, Nadia, is a student at South Pointe. Stratford saw all kids as she saw her own: As valuable as gold.
Never miss a local story.
Stratford did not leave at the end of the day, and she always left last, waiting until all had eaten.
"If a child needed to eat, the child was going to eat," said LaSheral Odom, who worked for Stratford for five years.
Even if payment came out of Stratford's own pocket.
"She was a very loving, kind, and sweet person," said Annette Reid, who worked for Stratford all six years South Pointe has been open.
Stratford did the same thing at Northwestern High before South Pointe opened and at other schools before that in a career that spanned almost 30 years, until cancer forced her to retire late last year.
She served kids as a lunch lady, one of the deans of all lunch ladies who do so much yet receive so little. At that, Joyce Stratford was royalty.
"My sister cared about those kids, would make sure they ate," said Stratford's sister, Lelia Douglas. "I work in a school cafeteria in York myself. I know what she was all about. It was making sure those kids ate.
"She loved her job. She worked doing just that until she couldn't do it anymore."
Stratford looked after her employees, too, and was a boss who expected the best and got it.
"I worked with her for years, but I have known Joyce since we were in the first grade together," said South Pointe cafeteria worker Gloria Robinson. "Always the same fine person."
After her retirement, another manager came to South Pointe and the cafeteria ran well because it had to run for the kids Stratford loved so much.
Then late last year, Stratford was asked to come back to South Pointe, to a staff meeting. She was given a South Pointe blanket and a cake.
And then, suddenly, the teachers started to clap. They stood and clapped some more. They clapped and cried, they cheered - for their lunch lady.
But Stratford had pancreatic cancer - one of the deadliest kinds - said her sister. Stratford died from cancer on New Year's Day - just five days after her husband, Louis Willis Jr., who also worked for the school district, died.
Thursday was a special day at South Pointe's cafeteria, and not just because it was chicken bites day and kids love chicken bites. Thursday, later in the afternoon, was Joyce Stratford's funeral.
Reid and Robinson and Odom - the ladies who worked for her - seemed especially careful in their work. Same for lunch lady Gwen Dunham, who knew Stratford almost all her life before working for her and who called her "the best."
Even newer lunch ladies who didn't know her well, just fleetingly, described Stratford as dignitaries describe heads of state.
"Just wonderful," said Teressa Titchenal.
And then, after each kid was fed - "The kids always came first for Joyce, getting them fed," said Reid - the lunch ladies went to the funeral for Joyce Stratford.
It was at Pineville AME Zion Church, the church where Stratford grew up, on S.C. 5 between Rock Hill and York, and where she stayed all of her 52 years.
The place was packed with former students who had eaten Joyce Stratford's lunches.
It was somber and there were many tears. All heard words about this lady, including from South Pointe principal Al Leonard.
He spoke about Stratford's dedication to children, how she started traditions at the school such as tailgates, how she - without a single dime from the school - found and put up murals on the cafeteria walls.
How she was committed to making sure her daughter got to college - and to encouraging others' daughters, too.
"Because she wanted her cafeteria to be like a kitchen, at home, where families eat together," said Leonard.
So many people in that church smiled for a minute in a ceremony so somber, because so many had eaten that food in Joyce Stratford's kitchen at those schools.
They knew this woman had love for children who weren't hers but she cared about them just the same, giving them what she could.
She gave food - and love.