Ministry Partnership: Susan B. Anthony Elementary School
Maybe you’ve heard of the cheese sandwich.
Shortly after I moved to Sioux Falls in 2018, I began to hear about the cheese sandwich. This very simple sandwich of bread and cheese was provided to children whose school lunch accounts ran out of money. The cheese sandwich was a code. If you were eating that cheese sandwich, every kid knew your family couldn’t pay the lunch bill. In some places, kids received a hand stamp of a dollar sign instead of the sandwich.
I also heard about organizations in town that raised money to cover the balance so no kid had to receive the cheese sandwich.
About the same time, there was a movement in area churches to partner with schools. Partner churches would work alongside teachers, staff, and students to support their kids. The challenge was simple. We had already seen how business owners supported local schoolchildren. How could area churches step up their game?
Emphasis went to establishing church–school partnerships with Title I schools—schools that receive the most federal funding to offset the deepest poverty in that part of our community.
Partnerships with Title I schools filled up fast, and often schools tried to juggle more than one church partner. Churches wanted to help the schools with the greatest need. Schools juggled several church partnerships, struggling to find something meaningful to offer to each. Or churches competed with each other for airtime and appreciation of the staff.
It was about then that OSL member Nancy Krueger, who had retired as a principal from Laura Wilder Elementary School, reached out to me with her own vision for a school partnership between OSL and another school. We took our time, establishing guidelines for the relationship. We dedicated ourselves to build meaningful relationships, to choose reasonable projects, and to pace ourselves so we didn’t burn out before we could actually help the school.
Nancy, making use of her contacts in the school district, helped steer us toward Susan B. Anthony Elementary School, and it was the perfect fit. The school was not a Title I school, but it features a wide range of demographics in the student body. Geographically, it’s very close to Our Savior’s. And, most importantly, thanks to Nancy we established a strong rapport with the administration at the school.
We were ready to launch our partnership. We planned congregation–school activities, visits from parishioners to the school’s coffee cart, mentoring...
And then COVID-19 swept into our community. Everything turned upside down.
Teachers had to relearn everything about their jobs. Students found themselves isolated and cut off from the steady support and rhythm of the school week.
We quickly adapted, showing appreciation and serving meals to the staff. That fall, our quilters made thousands of masks for the students. Since, we have settled into a regular rhythm of support at the school.
We offer regular conference lunches and dinners for the staff.
A small ministry team meets monthly to create care packages and appreciation gifts for every member of the staff.
And, at long last, we have begun to train mentors through Lutheran Social Services to visit the school weekly and build relationships with children who need that additional layer of love and support.
Staff at SBA have come to recognize OSL as a primary partner in their work. They reach out to us when they notice children with particular needs in their classrooms. We have purchased coats and snow pants. We buy every child books and fresh fruit.
In the process, we follow Christ’s command to love and serve our neighbor.
And the teachers and staff have taught us more about our community than we could have ever discovered on our own.
—Pr. Justin Kosec