School regains its own lunchroom

Students at St. James Lutheran School in Northrop are seen at lunch time in their new cafeteria located in the fellowship hall of the adjoining St. James Lutheran Church.

Students at St. James Lutheran School in Northrop have about the same classes and schedules as other students in the area.

They have time set aside for math, English, science and P.E. They start and end their day at about the same time as students at other schools.

However, for more than two years, lunch time for students at St. James Lutheran has looked very different. Every day around noon, in the wake of a fire that burned the church and damaged the school in March 2016, students would walk to the Northrop American Legion to eat lunch.

However, students recently got back into the routine of having lunch at school with the completion of the kitchen and fellowship hall in the adjoining St. James Lutheran Church.

Heidi Koeritz, a teacher at the school, also runs the food service program.

“Immediately after the fire we spent three weeks at Martin Luther [High School in Northrop],” Koeritz recalled.

For the first week, the school cook, Mary Sue Ringeisen, set up lunches to be catered at Martin Luther from different places, including Green Mill and Pizza Ranch. After some supplies were ordered and delivered, Ringeisen used Martin Luther’s kitchen for a few weeks to make lunches for St. James students.

As Ringeisen explained, everything was lost in the fire and they could not retrieve anything, so all of the supplies the school needed had to be restocked.

Ringeisen said the Legion then offered to let the school use its facility.

“They made room for us in the cupboards and we had tables set up in the basement and we kept some non-perishables and they made room for us in their freezers. They were so accommodating,” she said.

Because of the space and the freezers available, Ringeisen was able to maintain a normal school lunch menu. She makes lunch for 35 students grades K-8, plus teachers.

The St. James PTL brought a convection oven to the Legion for Ringeisen to use.

The school orders its food from Hermel of New Ulm.

Koeritz explained that students would walk over in shifts, with some of the older kids walking with the younger ones. She said they always made sure to use the crosswalks.

“When it got to be really cold in the winter, Mary Sue would pack everything up in a car and bring it here and we would set up some narrow tables and serve the lunch out of the school hallway and the kids would eat in the classroom,” Koeritz explained. “During that whole time, there was only one time that the students needed to bring a sack lunch.”

Everyone believed that the end of last school year would be the last time using the Legion, but several delays occurred, so students still utilized the Legion for lunch for a few months at the start of the 2018-19 school year.

“It’s good being here and having the people, the noise, the kids. It got lonely over there,” Ringeisen said.

She has been the school’s cook for four years. She spent one year in the previous kitchen before the fire, two years in the Legion and now she is making school lunches in the church’s new kitchen, which she said she likes very much.

After the fire, the new kitchen had to be built entirely up to code, which meant everything had to be stainless steel.

“It was quite expensive but the insurance allowed for some code updates,” Koeritz said. “We had several fundraisers and harvest dinners to help. Insurance is good but it doesn’t cover everything.”

The new kitchen boasts a big storage room as well as ample cupboard space. There’s a big three-door freezer and another two-door freezer, as well as other new appliances, such as a big coffee maker and a large sink.

“This is the only commercial kitchen in town and I really hope it gets used,” Koeritz said. “I’d like to see the high school use it and for it to get used in the community. It doesn’t always have to be a church thing. If someone wants to hold an anniversary celebration here or something like that, they should. Everything is to code and it’s open and everything is handicap-accessible.”

While everyone is happy to have their own space to make lunch and eat, they will not forget the generosity of those who offered help when it was needed.

“The Legion opened up their doors for us and we’re also very appreciative of Martin Luther for letting us step in and use their space,” Ringeisen said.