Early each morning, while students who attend Kingston Elementary in Virginia Beach are still asleep, school cafeteria manager Stacey Truman sits down at her desk and picks up a banana.
Actually, 60 bananas. Sometimes, bunches more. For the next 45 minutes, Truman patiently writes messages of hope on each banana with a black marker:
“Not all those who wander are lost,” she’ll write on one.
"If you can dream it, you can achieve it," she'll print on another.
On she goes (“You get what you give” and “Never give up”), until she’s filled several trays with what students call “talking bananas” — a lunch choice offering both positivity and potassium.
Truman, 35, who has worked in Kingston's cafeteria for nine years, honed her banana-writing skills on messages that she'd tuck into lunchboxes for her two daughters, Mackenzie, 10, and Kayleigh, 7. Last month, she decided that the kids at Kingston might find the idea appealing as well.
“I want them to succeed in life and have an awesome day at school," she said. "Whenever I can put a smile on all of those little faces, I’ve done my job.”
Although only about 10 percent of Kingston’s 540 students put bananas on their trays each day, many more have found Truman’s daily words of wisdom delightful, said the school’s principal, Sharon Shewbridge.
“She’s helped the kids to make healthier choices,” said Shewbridge. “But it’s more than that. Stacey genuinely cares and wants them to know they are loved. What I especially appreciate is that she does this without being directed or asked.”
Truman, who lives in Moyock, N.C., near the Virginia border, leaves her house every weekday at 4:45 a.m. and drives almost an hour to Kingston Elementary. It’s also her job to open the school and turn on the lights every morning before preparing the day’s lunch offerings with two colleagues. After she checks her email, she enjoys the quiet and writes on bananas at her desk before the rest of the cafeteria crew arrives and the morning becomes hectic.
Her husband, Zachery Truman, a computer tech, helps get their girls ready in the mornings, “because I’m not there when they wake up,” she said. For almost two years when her girls were younger, Stacey Truman also worked nights as a waitress because her family needed additional income to pay their bills.
"My girls sacrificed because I only saw them on the weekend, other than when I'd sneak in while they were sleeping to kiss them on the forehead," she said. "When I was getting their lunches ready the night before, I started writing little notes on their bananas to let them know I was thinking of them and wished I could be there."
Truman’s own childhood didn’t include “talking bananas.” Her parents divorced when she was 9, she said, requiring her and her two sisters to move into their grandparents' house with their mother.
“It was really hard, I wanted to give my daughters a better life than what I lived through and experienced,” she said. "Writing on a banana is such a simple thing, but it has an impact.”
She may be starting a trend, now that Principal Shewbridge has shared photos of Truman’s bananas on Twitter. When the Dole fruit company heard about Truman’s efforts in early November, they delivered 540 bananas to the school — one for every student.
On that morning, Truman enlisted help from PTA members and friends to come up with sayings and write them on each banana, "otherwise, I'd have still been writing when school let out," she said.
To use up the extras, she also created a batch of banana dolphins that were a huge hit.
A longtime collector of motivational sayings, Truman confessed that she gets a little help now from Google so that she’ll always have a large supply of fresh (but not overly mushy) material.
One of her favorite expressions is “Shoot for the moon — if you miss, you’ll end up with the stars.”
Small sayings such as "Dream big," "Be yourself" and "Laughter heals hurt" are equally powerful, she said.
It has caused students, in turn, to try their hand at it.
“To see the kids' faces light up when they choose their bananas is my reward,” said Truman. “And now, kids who bring lunches from home are coming in with talking bananas from their parents. I really love that.”
Always on the lookout for new ways to entice children to select more fruits and vegetables, she is now thinking of expanding her produce scribblings. She’s got her eye on citrus.
“Why not emoji oranges?” she said.