By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
WEST POINT — Recently, sixth-graders from Holy Trinity Catholic Elementary School helped prepare meals for families in the area struggling with food insecurity.
“The poverty rate in Lee County is one of the highest in the state with 25 percent of kids falling under the poverty rate,” said Mike Linnenbrink, youth ministry coordinator for four parishes in the West Point area. A local program, End of the Month Meals, serves dinners the last week of the month in Fort Madison to help families stretch their food budget during that critical time. Local churches and community groups take turns preparing cafeteria-style meals, which are served at St. John United Church of Christ in Fort Madison. Three Catholic parishes and one youth ministry group are among those who regularly help to prepare and serve meals.
Linnenbrink learned of the students’ interest in helping with the project when he visited Linda Peitz’s sixth-grade class shortly after the start of the school year. “I asked the kids what problems or issues they have an interest in and would like tackle. One of the areas of interest was helping the poor and needy in our local area. I invited them to be part of the End of the Month Meals program we prepare and serve in Fort Madison. As a class they decided take part in planning and preparing the next meal.”
He observes that when youths think about food insecurity and hunger, they usually think about people in third-world countries. “Poverty blends into the background and is a topic that we don’t talk about when it is in our own community,” Linnenbrink said. In the weeks leading up to the event, he and Peitz educated the youths about local poverty.
In preparing for the dinner, the youths decided that their meal would have items from all five food groups. They opted to prepare seasoned catfish, french fries, garlic bread, pepper poppers, apple crisp and fresh fruits and vegetables. Student Sheldon Kruse donated the fresh produce.
On the day of the meal, Sept. 26, the students took time away from school and prepared the items at St. Mary Parish in West Point. Adults assisted the youths. Some youths had never prepared a meal before, even at home, Linnenbrink said, so it was a learning experience on multiple levels.
As it was an evening project, the students were unable to help serve the food; volunteers from St. Mary’s heated and served the meal that evening. However, the students were happy to hear that the catfish meal fed 54 adults and 15 children, Linnenbrink said.
He believes the students gained a better understanding of identifying and responding to the needs of the less fortunate through the project. “This was a hands-on opportunity to get involved with our brothers and sisters in need. Benjamin Franklin said it best, ‘Tell me and I will forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.’”
Sixth-grader Henry Morris said, “When we were talking to Mike about why we’re doing this I learned that some people don’t have the money to pay for food. And that our faith calls us to do it. But it was really fun and I hope we do it again.” Several classmates expressed a similar desire to help out in the future.
Classmate Juniper Strickland dreams of a world where food insecurity no longer exists. “Even though we were helping, it made me sad to know of the people who are less fortunate than us. I hope one day no one will have to come to the end of the month meal.”