Stepping up to the "plate" in times of need

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From left, Kathy Ender and Erin Schmelzer hand out grab-and-go breakfast and lunch meals for students 18 years old and under. The free meals can be picked up Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to noon at the St. Mary Immaculate Conception school cafeteria in Guttenberg or at the Garnavillo Community Center. (Press photo by Caroline Rosacker)

By Caroline Rosacker

Lending a hand to those in need is second nature to Valerie Heck-Cromer and her husband, Jason. The couple has moved back to the area to be closer to family after they retired from their respective Naval careers. Valerie retired as a First Class Petty Officer and Jason retired as a Master Chief. Valerie is the daughter of Margo and Vernon Heck of Guttenberg. 

Valerie shared, "I was born and raised in Guttenberg in a family with ten brothers and sisters. I was raised in the Girl Scouts, so I have always volunteered. When my husband and I moved back to Iowa, I began volunteering at St. Mary's School in the kitchen. When I was a young girl I used to volunteer in the kitchen and help out Germaine Weyant, Fran Troester and Betty Powers before school because I thought it was fun." Valerie's volunteer efforts did not go unnoticed by St. Mary's administration; she is now the school's full-time food service director.

Meeting the needs of school-age youth

Federally-mandated school closings throughout the State of Iowa have left many school-age children without proper nutrition. Valerie commented, "The faculty at St. Mary's became concerned with the welfare of their students after its doors were closed. Principal Hedemann and the teachers quickly went into action and created educational learning packets for pickup or delivery to meet each student's educational needs. Erin Schmelzer, the school's secretary, and I came up with a grab-and-go breakfast and lunch program." 

Schmelzer added, "We are running off the Summer Food Program Guidelines. Kathy Ender, Valerie and I are on hand Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to noon.  Meals can be picked up at the St. Mary's School cafeteria or at the Garnavillo Community Center. Our services are available to anyone 18 years of age or younger." 

Valerie further noted, "St. Mary's has 78 students and the public school has over 600 students. The public school is not offering carry-out food services so that leaves a lot of hungry children not having their nutritional needs met. We are just getting started, but I am happy to report we gave out 50 carry-out breakfasts and as many lunches on the first day. I know there are several more students that need to take advantage of this program." 

Additionally MFL Mar-Mac and Ed-Co Community schools are also providing grab-and-g0 meals for their students. 

Meals for the elderly, medically vulnerable and shut-ins

"My husband and I decided there were more than just children suffering because of social isolation measures. We have commandeered the Garnavillo Community Center kitchen and are preparing meals for elderly, medically vulnerable/unable and  shut-ins in Garnavillo, Clayton, Garber and Guttenberg. There is no qualification or specific requirement for this free service. The meals can be picked up or delivered,  though delivery is preferable to facilitate the lowest numbers of people out of their homes and gathering at the center," she said. "The Garnavillo Volunteer Fire Department is delivering meals to homes in these four communities. The Garnavillo Fire Department has also donated three hams they no longer needed after the cancellation of their fund-raising breakfast."

The Cromers are purchasing groceries out of their own bank account and volunteering their time and talent in the kitchen. She concluded, "I will be here every single day. As long as I am standing upright I will continue to prepare meals for those in need." 

Volunteer opportunities

If you or someone you know is in need and would like to have a nutritious hot meal delivered to their residence or for pick-up, contact Valerie Cromer at 563-203-7013 or on Facebook. Meals will be by ready for delivery after 5 p.m. daily. 

Donations to help cover the cost of this meal program are appreciated and can be mailed to: 

Garnavillo COVID-19 Meal Delivery Project

C/O Garnavillo Fire Department

P.O. Box 185

Garnavillo, IA 52049

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