For homecoming week, the Maple River Middle School Student Council wanted to do something different. Instead of focusing inward, the members brainstormed ideas to serve people beyond the walls of the school.

On Wednesday morning 200 middle school students made 3,000 sandwiches for the homeless in just an hour.

“This year they decided, let’s do a service project,” said Sarah Volkmann, language arts teacher and Student Council director. “It came from the students wanting to do something good for the community.”

Volkmann immediately thought of the Sandwich Project, a grassroots organization that distributes sandwiches to the homeless in Minneapolis. She brought her kids along when her church made sandwiches for the organization and saw how much they grew from the experience. With 200 middle schoolers, they could make sandwiches to feed the homeless on a large scale.

One of Volkmann’s biggest cheerleaders for the project has been Student Council President Jackson Walters, an eighth grader at Maple River Middle School. He was surprised to learn the Sandwich Project is equipped to receive up to 50,000 sandwiches in a given day.

“I’ve always known there were homeless people up in the Cities and everywhere, but I didn’t know there were that many,” Walters said.

Volkmann and the council approached the school’s social worker, Amy Anderson, about their idea. She gave them two thumbs-up.

“We started looking at logistics, what we could do and what it would cost,” Anderson said. “Everyone got pretty excited about it.”

The Student Council tapped into its budget used to fund activities and events to buy the meat and cheese. The district’s bread distributor out of Mankato donated the bread.

They pitched their idea to the volunteer fire department in Minnesota Lake, which is known for donations to charitable causes.

“We did a presentation there and they generously donated half the amount of money we needed to make this program possible,” Volkmann said.

Before they went to their sandwich-making stations, the school’s 200 students gathered in the gymnasium. Anderson invited them to shut their eyes and imagine what it would be like to leave school at the end of the day and come home to a car, without a kitchen, a bed or a bathroom.

“The statistics from last year are that roughly the same amount of people as the population of Mankato experience homelessness in a given year,” Anderson said. “Almost half of that number is kids. I don’t think kids always realize that when we’re talking about the homeless population that it could mean kids.”

She explained some of the reasons families become homeless. Maybe a mother had to miss work to take care of a sick child and lost her job as a result — and that led to their falling behind on rent.

“I think there is a stereotype that people who are homeless are lazy and don’t want to work,” Anderson said. “That’s a stereotype these kids need to know is false — so I gave them some stories of how a family might come to find themselves homeless — or how that would feel if that happened to them or one of their friends.”

As the kids packed the sandwiches, they helped volunteer Jared Mueller, of Mankato, fill up his truck with the boxes before hauling the sandwiches to a Twin Cities warehouse for distribution.

“The company I work for, Met-Con Construction, thought it was a good cause and they agreed to let me have the day off,” Mueller said.

Over the next few days, the sandwiches will be distributed to people in Minneapolis experiencing homelessness.

Both Volkmann and Anderson hope to expand and continue service work for the community next year as well.

“I had several kids come up to me and say, ‘I’m so glad we did this. What are we going to do next year?’ Hopefully it will continue to grow from here,” Anderson said.

Dan Greenwood is

a Free Press staff writer. Contact him at dgreenwood@mankatofreepress.com.

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