Dear Amy: A recent writer noted that fellow nurses bullied her, calling her a "lunch lady."

I wanted to share a story about lunch ladies, who should be respected and lifted up for feeding our children with a smile.

When I was in school, I was shunned for a variety of reasons, by students and teachers alike. I often sat completely alone in a corner during breakfast and lunch.

I was often the first to arrive at breakfast period in order to get away from home earlier.

I'm not sure if the lunch ladies noticed this or were just fond of me, but they became some of the most welcoming, nurturing people in my school life.

They always greeted me with more enthusiasm and bright smiles than anyone else. They made sure I had enough to eat, even when I had no money.

Eventually I became sort of an assistant, spending my lunch periods learning how to use the equipment, and how a commercial kitchen worked.

On many days, their welcome ensured I came to school instead of skipping the day altogether, and I think their pseudo-mentorship shaped my life more deeply than anyone could imagine a "lunch lady" could.

"Lunch lady" should never be an insult. Mine were heroes.

Amy says: This is such a moving and well-deserved tribute to some of the lesser-recognized personnel at school — the lunch staff, librarians, bus drivers, janitorial staff, administrative assistants, security officers and student teachers.

I hope that every adult who works in a school environment recognizes the power of eye contact, a smile, and the recognition to a child that: "I see you."

Thank you so much for this letter. I hope it is printed out and posted in cafeterias everywhere.

A thief for 50 years

Dear Amy: My closest cousin and her husband are habitual shoplifters.

She frequently gives me gifts, but I have a difficult time thanking her because I know it was an item she did not pay for.

I have seen her at self-check registers where her husband shields her, and she puts two objects instead of one in the shopping bag.

She has only been caught once and her name was published in the newspaper, so everyone was aware of this. At that time, she said she forgot to pay for the items she was charged with stealing.

She has done this for 50 years. I think it actually hurts her to have to pay for things.

I know she loves me, but I can't return the feelings because of her dishonesty. She has to feel my coldness at times.

Should I confront her by saying I feel she has a problem, and it has affected our relationship?

Amy says: If you are absolutely certain that your cousin is a habitual thief, you should speak with her about it.

You should frame this as a conversation, not a confrontation, and you should express your concern within the context of how it has affected your relationship: "I believe you have a big problem, and it has really interfered with our relationship. I don't feel comfortable with your behavior. I honestly think you need professional help, because we were both taught that stealing is wrong, and yet you do it, anyway."

According to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, a very small percentage of shoplifters are caught — and very few are prosecuted — but chronic shoplifters may need professional help to stop. Their website offers a helpful and confidential self-assessment, along with the opportunity to connect with a therapist.

It is unethical to accept a gift if you know it has been stolen.

Send questions to Amy Dickinson at askamy@amydickinson.com.