Cafeteria manager serves up meals, smiles and kindness

March 08, 2024
Group of people behind tables with food on them.
MUSC Health Kershaw’s Julia Skinner, second from right, loves to feed people in her job and as a volunteer feeding the homeless with the Food for the Soul program in Kershaw County. Photo by Maria Cunningham.

This is part of MUSC's 2024 Women's History Month series. For more coverage, please see links at the bottom of this story.

At only 4 feet, 9.5 inches tall, Julia Skinner is small in size but larger than life, judging by the impact she has on everyone around her.

Skinner has worked in MUSC Health Kershaw Medical Center’s cafeteria for 28 years, now serving as the manager. In her job, she feeds the staff and patients’ loved ones, while also delivering smiles and comfort.

Skinner’s culinary career began at about age 8. “My mama started me off cooking eggs,” she said. These days, she makes fried chicken for family and friends every Sunday, along with some of her other favorite dishes, like barbecue ribs and macaroni and cheese. And, of course, she prepares meals at the hospital.

“I feel like it was God’s gift to be in the cafeteria,” she said. “I love blessing others.”

Two women and a man stand behind a table filled with food. 
Skinner, right, says it's important for people to know others care about them.

Skinner does just that with every interaction she has, whether it’s simply kindly greeting someone, carrying someone’s tray to his or her table or offering emotional support.

“I have shed so many tears in that hospital,” she said. “Because when a family member hurts, I hurt.” To Skinner, everyone is family. 

She recalled one particularly poignant time she felt called to help a customer — an elderly man whose wife was a patient. “I had to show him love and pray for him in the line,” she said. While they were praying together, the man’s wife passed away.

During anyone’s difficult time, “I let them know someone cares,” she said.

Her friend and colleague Maria Cunningham has witnessed and experienced Skinner’s caring spirit personally. “Julia has a very warm embrace and contagious smile,” Cunningham said. “She meets no stranger.”

Cunningham has known Skinner since 2012, when Cunningham worked in patient registration at Kershaw. She now is the program coordinator for all of the Kershaw physician clinics.

Although the two women don’t see each other every day anymore, Cunningham said, “Once you meet Julia for the first time, she will remember you for a lifetime.”

It likely goes both ways, especially considering that Skinner’s kindness extends beyond the cafeteria walls.

She volunteers for Food for the Soul, an organization in Camden that provides food and shelter for people in need, cooking Thanksgiving feasts and other meals. Skinner’s involvement inspired Cunningham not only to join her as a volunteer but also to become a board member of the organization.

Skinner doesn’t limit her giving back to food-related charities. She takes the initiative to ensure everyone in the community is taken care of. 

Cunningham shared that last year, Skinner asked Jackson School guidance counselors how she could best help their elementary schoolers. 

“Some children were in desperate need of coats and shoes,” Cunningham said.

Skinner wasted no time in solving this issue and set up a clothing drive, reaching out to coworkers, friends and neighbors to donate the requested items. Almost like Santa Claus himself, she delivered the coats and shoes to the school right before the Christmas break.

Back at the hospital, Skinner brought her special touch to the holidays in the form of a gingerbread house decorating contest. Cunningham was touched when Skinner set aside a house for Cunningham’s department to embellish.

“She was just beyond herself when I went to bring her the gingerbread house we had done as a department,” Cunningham said.

Skinner made the entire event a festive spectacle, featuring the houses prominently in the cafeteria and going live on Facebook to show them off to everyone.

“She really takes a lot of pride and joy in everything she does,” Cunningham said.

Skinner’s unique energy even influences busy hospital staff to skip the self-checkout. “Everyone wants to get in line to see Miss Julia,” she said.

It should come as no surprise, then, that she still has a passion for her career. “After 28 years at the same job, you love what you do,” declared Skinner.

Cunningham feels lucky to have crossed paths with Skinner 12 years ago at Kershaw Medical Center.

“She is truly a blessing to all of us whose lives she has touched,” Cunningham said.

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