On Thursday mornings, Judy Johnson, a resident at Covenant Living at the Holmstad, wakes up at 5:30 a.m. in Batavia, Illinois, and joins as many as eight others from the community to feed 200 high school students.
It’s all part of the Bulldog Breakfast held at Batavia Covenant Church, located just across the street from Batavia High School, which has an enrollment of 2,000 students. On Thursdays, the students have a late start, and all are welcome to stop by the church for a free meal.
The students may be getting a late start, but the volunteers begin early. “We get to the church by 6:15 in the morning, and our work begins with preparing the pancakes, French toast sticks, egg casserole, and sausages,” said Johnson.
“We’ve got our system down—from putting out a lawn sign to remind students, setting up the buffet lines, getting the juice table ready, greeting students at the door, and then ultimately washing the dirty dishes afterward,” Johnson added.
The breakfasts started in 2016, when the church was considering how it could better reach into its community. They had made attempts to connect with the school, but nothing had really panned out.
Then they decided that since many students use the church parking when they drive to school, it seemed natural to invite them in for food.
When the church started offering breakfasts, about 30 students showed up. Growth was slow at first. “It took about a year and a half to really gain trust from the students,” says Dan Raymond, pastor of worship arts and youth ministry, who oversees the outreach.
“I think students experienced a welcoming and loving setting,” says Raymond. “There are no strings attached and we don’t do any kind of bait-and-switch on them where we make them take part in a Bible study.”
Raymond said students who attend the church have told him of classmates who otherwise would never have entered a church who come to breakfast.
There is a small budget for the ministry, which pays for some of the food but most of the items are donated. A nearby Panera restaurant recently started donating food left over from the previous day.
About half of the volunteers who serve the meal come from Covenant Living. “We’re blessed to have them, and it’s even more exciting to see how they connect and interact with the younger generation,” says Eric Landin, pastor of the church. “It’s a mutual benefit for everyone.”
“Covenant Living at the Holmstad employs nearly 40 students in our dining services,” Johnson added. “When you think about it, it comes full circle for our group of resident volunteers to serve a meal to the students at the Bulldog Breakfast, because it’s usually the other way around.”