District’s community lunches help keep an eye on the kids
STORM LAKE – After last summer’s isolation and a particularly, well, strange school year, Storm Lake Community School District officials wanted to do something this summer to gauge how students were doing emotionally.
Whitney Vohs and Jenna Lullmann were on it: Why not have an in-person community lunch once a month. Why not, indeed? Vohs, the district’s food service director, and Lullmann, an administrative assistant, decided the lunch – in conjunction with the regular summer lunch program – would include games, free books and lots of freebies including basketballs.
The goal, said Chief Operating Officer Jeff Tollefson, was to check on students, get a good meal, have fun along with a smidgen of academics.
“The first time (in June), we were going to have it outside, but there was a chance of rain,” he said. “So they moved it inside. We hired some college kids to play with the students and check on them to make sure everyone is OK.”
And it has since stayed inside.
“Our biggest concern with the community lunch is the kids’ mental health,” Tollefson said. “We check on the kids, give them some educational opportunities but let them have fun with it.”
The community lunch consists of grilling hamburgers and hotdogs, and offering fresh fruit, vegetables, chips and milk and water. At each lunch, they partnered with the County Public Health, which offered COVID shots.
Overall, Tollefson said, the students seem to be resilient and in good places.
“We did, however, have a mother at the last lunch concerned about her child’s mental well being,” he said. “We matched her up with the proper resources.”
The community lunches, the last of which was held Aug. 6, have been a success, Tollefson said. During that event, the high school principal made balloon animals for the kids, and free books and school supplies were handed out along with other swag. Police officers and the fire chief also dropped by, as did the school mascot, King Splash.
Tollefson said the district may repeat the community lunches next year.
“I think it’s turned into something incredibly popular with the kids,” he said. “Parents seem very content.”
“Anytime you can get a book in a kid’s hands, we’re helping them,” Tollefson said. “We’re not curing everything, but we are engaging.”