JANESVILLE

Christians are encouraged to become the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.

Nobody says anything about becoming sandwich makers or delivery drivers, but that’s the direction a group from St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and School has taken the Christian mandate.

Jen O’Connell and her friend Ashley Ausen were talking Saturday about how many children would go hungry after schools were closed amid the statewide COVID-19 outbreak.

By 11 a.m. Monday, the two women had 500 lunches ready to give away.

“I have four kids of my own and was thinking about how many kids depend on school lunches,” Ausen said.

Organizing a lunch delivery system in 36 hours is not easy, but it’s possible with modern technology and a group of willing, charitable people.

O’Connell was attending a women’s event at St. Paul’s on Saturday and texting with Ausen about hungry kids.

“I was like, ‘I think we can do this,’ and within an hour, we had a statement from our principal that he was 100% behind us,” Ausen said.

O’Connell made an announcement at the women’s event, and people just started “handing me money,” she said.

Family and church members got involved. Sandwiches were made; brown bags packed, and announcements went out on the Facebook pages of St. Paul’s Kindness Karavan and the Janesville School District. Lunches were distributed in the St. Paul’s parking lot and at the district’s Educational Services Center.

Another volunteer came on board to coordinate deliveries to families with working parents.

Seven drivers delivered 150 meals Tuesday. They were even able to accommodate students with peanut allergies and dairy restrictions.

Group members tried to practice “social distancing” throughout the effort. That meant carefully scheduling volunteers—more is not necessarily better—and letting people pick up their own food, for the most part.

Organizers have coordinated with school district officials, and grab-and-go lunches will be available starting Thursday. If needed, the Kindness Karavan might continue its work after that date.

District spokesman Patrick Gasper said the school district “absolutely appreciates its community partners.”

Federal rules prohibit schools from delivering food to students, but Jim Deegan, the district’s food service manager, hopes to get a waiver from them.

Several district students live in trailer home parks, and it might be more convenient to set up food distribution there. Some parents also lack transportation to the food sites.

St. Paul’s Principal Rob Lunak said this kind of work is part of the church and school’s culture.

“We teach children that we are created, loved and redeemed by God,” he said. “What we do for others is an expression of that love.”

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