When Carissa Lara and her family went out to dinner at Puyallup’s Fiesta Taqueria & Tequila Bar on Sept. 5, the topic of Puyallup teachers striking for better pay came up.
Lara, a Puyallup resident and mother of two, told manager Fernando Luis about the rally teachers were planning two days later and her support for them.
“I asked him, ‘Would you guys be willing to take them lunch?’ That’s how this started — we just wanted to take them lunch,” Lara said.
Luis immediately called the owner of the restaurant, Ramesh Kumar, who jumped at the chance to donate food for the teachers.
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“The kids and teachers are our future,” Kumar said. “I support them 100 percent.”
Kumar, who owns three restaurants in Puyallup and South Hill, has three children who went through the Puyallup School District. He said the teachers who taught his kids are like second parents.
“The teachers are the ones who are spending 40 hours (a week) with them,” he said.
With such a positive response, Lara called other area restaurants. She found they also wanted to show their support.
Before she knew it, Lara had a list of restaurants donating to the cause, including Little Caesars Pizza, HoneyBaked Ham, Wicked Pie Pizza, The Hub and Jersey Mike’s Subs.
“I’m just making phone calls,” Lara said. “It’s easy to make phone calls and go and pick up food and deliver it, but for them to open their hearts up, even their wallets like that, it’s amazing.”
On Sept. 7, Ramesh and several employees stopped by the Puyallup Education Association teacher rally at Pioneer Park to drop off the food. Lara and her husband, Caleb, picked up food from other restaurants and brought it over.
Lara wasn’t the only one providing food. Vanessa Makalena, who has a son at Aylen Junior High, had her own tables set up with food and water for the teachers. On Thursday, she’d posted on Facebook asking for donations, and supporters came through. She was overwhelmed by the response but not surprised.
“I expected it. That’s Puyallup, that’s our community,” she said. “We want our teachers to know we support them.”
Amanda Caldara, a first grade teacher at Spinning Elementary, and Sara Clerget, a kindergarten teacher at Sunrise Elementary, were touched by the support.
“We have received so much support from our community,” Clerget said. “My school, Spinning, is on a major road and everyone is waving and honking and giving thumbs up. Our families have been giving us lots of treats and making signs for us. It’s been amazing the support we’ve been getting from everyone.”
Both Clerget and Caldara were big reasons Lara wanted to help the teachers. Her daughter, Lily, will be going into second grade this year and previously had Clerget and Caldara as teachers.
“They’ve taken so much time with her,” Lara said. “They’ve been such a huge part of her life.”
Union leaders and the district came to an agreement Saturday night, and school was set to begin Monday.
Lara said she was prepared to make more food available for teachers had the strike continued.
“I’m really hoping the district sees and understands that as a community in Puyallup, we support these teachers and we stand behind them,” she said.