Jackie Schulz Parish Administrator at First Lutheran Church of Mandan had nothing but wonderful things to say about the students of Mandan High School, the staff at First Lutheran Church, and Dakota Community Bank & Trust (DCB&T). As the lead organizer behind their Lunch at First (LAF) program, Schulz knows the commitment from all parties put into running a successful weekly operation.
LAF was started 13 years ago by Shantel Penn who was the youth director at the time. Her goal was to open the church to students without preaching to them, without pushing a specific religion, simply to offer a safe and welcoming space to go with a warm, nutritious meal that could be enjoyed amongst friends. Schulz says “It is our way to say ‘Hey, if you need anything, come on over. We are here for you.’”
Tragically, Penn was killed in a car accident just months after launching LAF. Because of the unfortunate events surrounding the beginnings of LAF, Schulz feels compelled to keep the program going to not only help those high school students who may not be able to afford a meal, and not only to open the church doors to promote a sense of community, but because of her. In its early days, LAF fed around 10 to 20 students and has grown to now feed roughly 400 to 450 high school students each and every week.
Schulz went on to say that another profound moment happened to her about four years ago; a moment when she knew she needed to continue this wonderful program. There was a child that had nine hotdogs, and a few staff took notice. A few weeks later, they found out that this child was homeless. That this was the only meal the child had that day, and possibly for a couple days. “The only meal that child got, was because we gave him that free meal that day.” Schulz continued “So if nothing else, if we can feed one kid that can’t afford food. That is our goal here.”
That, and stories like that, have not only opened the hearts and minds of the Mandan High School student body, but also has softened the hearts and whisked away judgement in the minds of First Lutheran Church’s staff and their weekly volunteers. “Whether these kids belong to our church or not, they cannot thank you enough as they are coming through our line. As they are running through our doors, they are thanking us and saying ‘can’t wait to see you next week.’”
DCB&T became involved three years ago when Kristi Entzi, branch president in Mandan reached out to Schulz asking if they could use any volunteers and/or assistance with providing the weekly meal for the Mandan High School students. Without any hesitation Schulz said “Absolutely. We are always looking for volunteers.” Since that initial conversation, DCB&T has provided the food and volunteers to serve the first LAF event held each year in October as well as the last LAF held in May.
Entzi matches Schulz’s comments about the students and LAF program, stating that “As a parent of two teenagers I was impressed by the excitement my kids showed for Lunch at First. They look forward to it each week and encourage their friends to attend as well. I love the idea that First Lutheran Church is providing a safe, fun, and nourishing way to connect with area youth that may have never been inside a church and/or may not always get a meal at lunch. As an employee of DCB&T, I’m proud to be a part of such a great event that truly serves the youth in our area.”
LAF is ran by the church, retired folks who commit to spending each Thursday volunteering, as well as volunteers in the community. Schulz mentioned how extremely grateful and appreciative she is that DCB&T has helped out with this program. “It does cost quite a bit of money, and when you are a church, you are on a budget. So it is nice to have Dakota Community Bank & Trust’s involvement in our community.”
Recognizing DCB&T’s responsibility to community involvement, Schulz parallels First Lutheran Church’s relationship to Mandan Public Schools, “We really help all of Mandan Public School’s kids any way we can. We are kid-oriented here at this church. If that is something that anyone in the community likes to do, come join us. Because that is something we do well is take care of our Mandan kids.”
“Dakota Community Bank & Trust is showing how you are involved in the community as well and helping out wherever you can be. You guys are showing support to our community and we really appreciate it.”
For more information or to volunteer for Lunch at First (LAF), please visit: https://firstlutheranofmandan.com/.
Written by Lindsey Hefta, Marketing Director