Opinion Matters

With Gazette Opinion Editor Greg Peck

Breakfast Club volunteers reunite

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Greg Peck
Thursday, January 16, 2014

It was quite a gathering Wednesday at Wedge Inn cafe in Janesville. It got rather loud as 19 people, seated at tables shoved together, tried to converse with those seated next to them. What brought us together? All of us were volunteers with St. John Vianney Catholic Church's rotation in the Breakfast Club at Roosevelt Elementary School.

That commitment ended last January, when the Janesville School District decided to disband the traditional “breakfast clubs,” led by volunteers, and switch so schools serving breakfast use a federally funded program.

That didn't sit well with many longtime volunteers, including me. I helped out at Roosevelt for about 20 years. We still wonder what the schools will do to feed the hungry mouths if and when that funding dries up.

Volunteers are still welcome to help, staffers assured us last winter. Sure, we loved serving the kids, both with meals and with kind words and compassion. From time to time we felt we were making real differences in the lives of children from troubled homes who needed caring adults. The program change, however, erased our united sense of purpose and need. Now, instead of toast, cereal and oatmeal, kids get prepackaged items such as breakfast bars, cheese sticks, boiled eggs, fruit juice and milk. A paid staffer oversees the program at each school.

This past summer I ran into two of my favorite Roosevelt students, sisters who were at the Janesville Farmers Market with their mother. They rushed up to ask, “Did you bring the box?”

Their question made me chuckle. I brought games and puzzles to the breakfast club, including a little trick box that hid a nickel inside. Only by properly shaking it could a child jar loose a magnet that held the wooden box shut and retrieve the nickel. Of course I didn't have the box with me at the farmers market.

Last Saturday I ran into another girl I recognized from Roosevelt. She was at a grocery shopping with her mother, and I'd noticed them two weeks earlier, as well.

“Hey, do you shop here every Saturday?” I asked the girl. She recognized me and smiled.

“What grade are you in now?” I asked.

She's a sixth-grader at Marshall Middle School, she told me. Without prompting, she also said she misses the old breakfast program, and her mother seconded the comment.

Volunteers not only donated much time but money and equipment through the years. They felt they were contributing to the community. They also got insight into why schools need help and tax support. The change made them feel pushed aside.

I developed strong friendships with some of these volunteers from St. John Vianney. I knew none of them before we served together at Roosevelt. We reunited for a couple of breakfasts in the past year, and on Wednesday we agreed to schedule a regular monthly gathering.

The school district no longer needs us, but that change can't erase our history and the camaraderie we built.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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