A Shared Table: Caring for the Community through Meals
As students went off to enjoy their spring breaks at St. Patrick School in Perry, Iowa, principal Kandice Roethler and her staff knew that there was a great possibility that the school might be forced to close before the students could come back. At that time, the COVID-19 pandemic was in the early stages of gripping the country and Principal Roethler, a participant in the 7th cohort of the Latino Enrollment Institute, is acutely aware of the needs of her school families and the extent to which the St. Patrick's cares about serving the whole family and the community. A sudden closure of the school would burden countless families, including leaving many students without nutritious meals.
“We knew we had to have plans in place in case things did happen, so while the school closing may have been sudden, we were ready,” says Roethler.
While options were opening up to use other meal programs, Principal Roethler and her staff were resolute that St. Patrick’s families would continue to be served by the school and the place that they knew best. “In conversation with a lunch program staff member, it was decided that our families know us best, and we know their needs. Asking them to go to the public school site where they might not know someone just didn’t seem right.” St. Patrick's was determined to begin their own meal program using food that would have gone to waste from their own kitchen, and also relying on grants, donations, and volunteers.
While there are amazing stories of schools all over the country stepping up to feed students in this unprecedented time, St. Patrick’s is doing it a bit differently. Instead of feeding just students, Roethler says the St. Patrick staff is feeding entire families in need.
“The idea came more from our kitchen staff member, Theresa Cromwell. She was able to pull together some great recipes using the food we had on hand. From there, the meals turned into a family-style meal that we felt would offer greater reassurance than a simple sack lunch option. Additionally, since the program is running on grant money and donations, the decision to do family-style meals such as spaghetti or a pan of mac and cheese has allowed us to further stretch our funding to reach more families.”
Since March 23, St. Patrick’s has averaged 15 full family-style meals each day, with each of the meals serving at least six people. By the end of May, they will have served for a total of 50 days, which amounts to 750 family-style meals, feeding as many as 4,500 Saint Patrick family members.
The efforts of the St. Patrick staff have not gone unnoticed by the parents. One parent wrote, “As a parent of a St. Patrick School student, I'm very grateful for the meal program. With COVID-19 and my husband not working as much, it is a lot of help and I know that there are a lot of other families in the same situation as I am. There are some kids for whom this is the only meal they’re getting right now. I just want to say thank you and God bless you for feeding all of these children.”
Not only have families benefited from the meal program, so too have the St. Patrick's staff. Across the country, as teachers, principals, and school staff members have gone from seeing the bright faces of children every day to now having to rely on distance learning, many school faculty members and staff are missing the daily interactions with students. The St. Patrick's meal program has allowed Principal Roethler and her staff the opportunity to connect with students and families, which would not be possible otherwise.
“We are so blessed to have this opportunity to engage with our families and ensure that food is not to be scarce during this time of closure. The idea really has come to life and is one of the bright parts of this time when things can be scary and unknown. The times I have been able to be at the school and help with the lunches have always brought a smile to my face and made me so proud to be a part of the Saint Patrick’s family.”
It’s safe to say that the students and families of St. Patrick’s Catholic School feel the exact same way.