St. Jude employee dedicates years serving up smiles to children from around the world

Updated: Mar. 27, 2020 at 11:31 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - These challenging times remind us how important it is to look out for one another.

And one of the ways we do that is by supporting charities that protect the most vulnerable members of our community - like St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

As we kick off the 2020 St. Jude Dream Home Giveaway campaign we met with a woman who’s been serving up special cures at the hospital for decades.

LaWanda Payne, the manager of foodservice operations has been working for St. Jude Children’s Hospital for 20 years. To this day, she has the same sentiment every time she walks through the doors.

“I love my job. It’s so rewarding,” she said.

Her job is one that would bring a smile to almost anyone’s face, especially the kids who get to experience a taste of luxury.

“Room service is where the patients will call down and order their meal selection off a restaurant-style menu," said Payne. "If they want breakfast at dinner time or dinnertime at breakfast, they can choose that. The orders are placed and with 45 minutes are delivered to bedside.”

And if there’s nothing on the menu the patient wants or like, they can count on Ms. Payne to go to the extra mile.

“I make trips to the grocery store myself twice a week and sometimes it’s every day," said Payne. “If there’s a need that comes up that a patient is not eating, whatever it takes to get that child to eat, yes I’ve gone to grocery stores, to Asian markets to farmer’s markets to find those special ingredients for those dishes.”

And because children from all over the world come to St. Jude for treatment, they often bring their desire for home-cooked meals with them.

Fortunately, satisfying global palates is no problem for Payne.

In her 13 years as manager of foodservice operations, there’s one special delivery she won’t soon forget.

“I remember a time when a parent was kind of desperate because her son wasn’t eating. She didn’t really feel that we could prepare the meal that her son needed," said Payne.

“She felt that ‘oh we’re in the middle of Tennessee, there’s no way that we would have those food items in this area’ and maybe we couldn’t get the ingredients or the taste or the flavors and also this dish had to be prepared in a clay pot. The chefs went out and they sourced, they went out to Asian markets and they sourced these items that were needed for the dish. The next day, the chefs made it and took up to our patient and he was so happy. I mean it was perfect.”

Payne says its donor dollars that allows for special needs like that one to be met, especially when it comes to foodservice safety for patients who have compromised immune systems.

“The equipment that we have it’s such modern up to date with technology equipment from our refrigerators and freezers that are monitored and there are alerts that go out to make sure the temperature is not falling out of the deviations we have set. We have so many sick children, and a safe and clean environment is a must," said Payne.

“I know that I’m in a place that I can make a difference.”

Serving food and a smile.

Tickets for the St. Jude Dream Home Giveaway are available RIGHT NOW! Just call 1-800 224-6681 or visit

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