In elementary schools, the students are young and the adults are more than workers. Teachers are allies. The ladies who serve the lunch are like mommas or grannies who make sure a kid trying to learn to read is not hungry.
Melva Sexton, a lunch lady at Oakdale Elementary School, is not just some lady serving up the sloppy Joes. And when she was shot Wednesday morning at home, the school's teachers and staff heard from school administrators, and all tried to teach kids - and worry and pray at the same time that Sexton would be all right.
"Melva Sexton is part of our family," said Neil McVann, principal at Oakdale, after the school day finished Wednesday. "She is someone people see and know. She is wonderful. She is beloved."
The students at the school were not told Wednesday about the shooting because kids so young would not understand bullets for what appears to be no reason at all, other than a sick crime in the dark. The kids would want answers, and nobody had any.
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The police had made no arrests Wednesday during the school day.
The 59-year-old Sexton, a lunch lady since 2006 at Oakdale, is the mother and grandmother type. The lady people see, the kids see, who makes every day better. She is the wife of a plumber, a lady of the people.
Sexton so loved the children at Oakdale, every kid, that she helped organize benefits at the school. She set up an account, coordinated through her church, Roddey Baptist Church, just a couple of miles away from the school, that paid for lunches and breakfasts for children who had no money.
"She brought in book bags and school supplies, too," McVann said. "She believed in every kid. We are just - just sickened by what happened."
The smiles, though, the Melva Sexton smiles, were always free. The smiles were for each kid.
Wednesday, all missed that smile.
The staff at the school by Wednesday afternoon had already signed a card and sent it to the hospital. Money was being collected for what will surely be brutal expenses.
The senior pastor at Roddey Baptist Church, Ronnie Helms, spent part of Wednesday at the Charlotte hospital with Sexton and her family. Sexton and her husband, Richard, have a daughter and son-in-law and two grandchildren, Helms said.
"We are all in shock, just plain, absolute shock, at what happened to Melva," Helms said. "This is a woman who is truly virtuous. A selfless person. A great person. A giving person."
Of all the ministries at Roddey Baptist that Sexton cares most about - and there are many - is the one that feeds and clothes needy children at Oakdale, Helms said.
Prayers throughout the day filled Roddey Baptist, too, as people came in and prayed for friend Melva Sexton.
This is a place so devout, with so many decent people, that Helms, the pastor, said he has prayed for the soul of whomever did this awful deed.
"The person that did this needs to get right with the Lord," Helms said.
Helms is a man of God. He practices what he preaches. He does not hate.
But this is not some drug dealer shot in the street. Not some villain who had hurt others and took a bullet he might have earned or deserved. It is hard not to hate someone who would shoot a beloved lunch lady, a grandmother, who collects food and clothes and money for needy kids.
The school cafeteria workers gave out lunch Wednesday, but there was no joy.
Workers had to try to hide their tears from the kids as they dished out the chicken filet sandwiches, the collard greens, the fruit cups and the milk on Wednesday. Smiles had to be forced - even when kids got chocolate milk.
Students asked where Mrs. Sexton was Wednesday, the tiny kids in the serving line, and had to be told she was not at work, smiling, as she always was for six years.
The kids at Oakdale school, by this morning, will likely have heard something. Some will want to know how somebody could hurt this lunch lady who never hurt anybody and is so nice.
Nobody will have a good answer for that question coming from a tiny 7-year-old student.
"Our counselors will be ready to talk to any child," McVann said. "But this will not be easy."
Somehow, through late Wednesday, Sexton had been able to survive the attack at her home where she was shot at least seven times, Helms said. Shot in her bed, somehow, this woman who collects money for poor children and feeds kids lunch was able to find the strength to call 911.
Helms, the preacher who was in those hospital rooms with Sexton on Wednesday, who prayed in those rooms Wednesday as he held hands with family, said there is a reason for the survival. A reason for Sexton to be able to cross her arms above her heart.
"It is what we talk about, what believers believe," Helms said. "A miracle."
McVann, the principal at Oakdale, agreed.
"What else could it be?" he wondered.
That may be so. Melva Sexton, who spent each school day making sure each kid ate whether there was a dollar at home or not, seems like she sure earned that miracle.