The McDonald's on Main Street in Mitchell was abuzz with friendly chatter Monday morning. Some of it came from the employees taking orders and talking to customers. Some of it came from the local group of regulars who gathered for coffee and conversation and in the corner.
And some of it came from the steady stream of area teachers who stopped in to pick up classroom supplies donated by the Leonard Management Group, a family owned company that owns the restaurant.
“This is one of the most fantastic things you can do for a local community, because education and kids are really the backbone of a small community like Mitchell,” said Bruce Haines, a special projects coordinator with the Leonard Management Group. “It comes down to the teachers and students and everybody around them.”
Haines was on hand Monday in the recently reopened dining room of the restaurant, where the normal morning crowd was filtering through the front door and the drive-through. A handful of employees were gathered around to hand out the school kits to teachers as they came in for a bagful of useful classroom items as well as some coffee and a cookie.
The donation of the kits is a way to show appreciation for teachers and all they provide for their students, according to a press release from the ownership company. The kits include classics like a set of wooden pencils, as well as dry-erase markers, hand sanitizer, tissues, paper and Post-It notes, among other items. Teachers also had a chance to win door prizes for stopping by.
The group planned to give away more than $30,000 in kits at giveaways in Nebraska, South Dakota and Iowa.
Haines, who has had involvement with the Main Street McDonalds since the mid-1980s, said teachers in the Mitchell community and around the country often struggle with the cost of keeping enough supplies on hand for themselves and their students. According to the National Education Association, teachers in the United States, on average, spend about $459 on school supplies yearly.
That is an example of how dedicated teachers are when it comes to their responsibility of guiding students through their educational experience, Haines said.
“I just think they have to be supported. I think we have to support education. Because at the end of the day, they’re getting phone calls and getting feedback that is far from being supportive. It’s a really tough job,” Haines said.
There’s a special attitude teachers tend to possess that shows their dedication to their students and the importance of educating them.
“It’s that can-do attitude. I didn’t realize when I was a kid what a can-do attitude is and how teachers have to have it. Because they have to wear more hats during the day than I can think about,” Haines said.
There were kits for about 75 teachers at Monday’s giveaway, and the response to the program had been strong, said Deb Shannon, general manager and a 42-year veteran of the McDonald's location. In addition to teachers from the multiple schools in Mitchell, the event was drawing instructors from local surrounding communities, as well.
“We’ve already had some from Ethan, Mount Vernon and the surrounding area come in,” Shannon said.
The kits not given away are passed through the Caring Closet volunteer program, which helps distribute items such as clothing and hygiene products to school kids confidentially and at no charge to them or their family. That way, nothing goes to waste.
“We’ll call the Caring Closet and have them picked up. That way they have them throughout the year in case a kid needs stuff or a teacher needs stuff,” Shannon said.
The giveaway was open to elementary and high school teachers, whether they work at a public or private school.
Jacki Roy, a speech therapist at Longfellow Elementary School, was on hand to pick up a bag and have a little coffee. She said she also stopped for supplies last year, which was the first time the Leonard Management Group held the giveaway, and was happy to see they held it again this year.
“It’s a huge difference to know that there are other people who care about us and want us to start the year off right,” Roy said.
She said keeping supplies stocked in the classroom can be a challenge, and programs like this can help make a difference for both teachers and students, she said.
“It is really tough. We spend a lot of money out of our own pockets, so we appreciate anything that people are willing to donate,” Roy said.
The employees at the Main Street McDonald’s location have been looking forward to the giveaway. It gives them a chance to mingle with community members and offer something back to people they know are working hard for the betterment of the community.
Shannon said the group is happy to work with other groups or individuals who may want to help teachers in a similar manner, as well. Those who have a desire to take part can reach out to them at the Main Street location and someone will be happy to start the ball rolling.
Haines recalled a few years ago, around Christmas, a young boy was hanging around the McDonald’s, and a customer pointed out to him that the boy had been there for some time and may be hungry. Haines said he eventually realized that the boy’s parents worked and there would be times when he was looking for something to eat and for people to be around.
Haines said they gave the boy a booklet of gift certificates as a Christmas gift and told him to come in if he was hungry or needed a place to spend some time. The boy, he said, was grateful and carefully rationed the certificates to make them last. Haines said it was an emotional moment to see the boy respond and to know he had something to eat.
The person who pointed out to Haines that the boy looked hungry and alone? She was a teacher.
Monday’s giveaway is the least they can do to help people like that - the ones who look out for and care for the most vulnerable people, and do it without complaint and are often overlooked by the community at large.
“Something as simple as to have a teacher come in and grab a kit, and when that’s done and those supplies go back to the classroom, you kind of ask yourself when it’s over...” Haines said. “You ask yourself - why doesn’t everyone do something for education?”