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Building bridges and community over lunch with our first responders

Community in Action

The First Responder Lunch Program invites police officers and firefighters to dine with students in our school lunchrooms.

The program demonstrates our deep appreciation for our first responders and builds bridges to different corners of our community by fostering positive relationships between our students and public safety entities. The school visits also help responders be better familiarized with school staff and building layouts.

“First responders are integral to the safety of our school communities,” says Jonah Stinson, director of school safety and emergency management, “and it’s been wonderful to have them in our buildings engaging with kids and staff during the school day.”

“When emergencies do happen, we’re better prepared knowing it’s not the first time a student has interacted with police or fire, or the first time a responder has been inside a school. And what better way to connect than over a shared meal?”

We recently received some feedback and stories from some of the Bellingham police officers who visit with our students over lunch.

 

Neighborhood Police Officer Dante Alexander writes:

It has been very fun getting to sit and eat with the students. There is something refreshing about being with students and experiencing the joy they see in the world.  It has been great seeing the transition from students asking “What are you doing here?” to walking in and getting high fives. I have visited several of the schools on the north side of town. Some of my favorite moments have been playing basketball with students at Whatcom and Shuksan Middle and realizing police officers have a little basketball game; or getting the kids a little too riled up and getting them in a little trouble; or just the questions they ask and being able to let the students know we are here if they need help. I am grateful to the school district to allow an opportunity for us to interact with the students in such a positive way.

 

Corporal Kyle Nelson writes:

I have focused on going to lunch at Northern Heights Elementary.  The most important thing is to break down the barriers with the kids that our uniform and position may create.  The lunch program allows us to talk to the kids about positive things and humanize our position. 

Here’s a story. The first time I went I brought a roll of stickers thinking that the kids would get a kick out of free stuff.  HUGE mistake!  I was rushed by the entire cafeteria begging for a sticker.  I did not think that I was going to make it out. 

This program is great and I hope that it can be continued. 

 

Warrant Officer Mark Hoyos has visited four cafeterias multiple times. He shared these stories with us:

The biggest takeaway is being visible to the kids, gaining their trust, being available for them to sit and interacting with us in a relaxed setting. When I first started having lunch with the kids, I noticed that the kids were asking if there was something wrong. Now when I show up the kids are high-fiving me and excited to see me and they want to sit and have lunch with us. The teachers and staff have been so very welcoming and friendly.

I personally love every time I go and have lunch with the kids. Every visit is a new experience meeting new kids. The kids love sitting with us and asking questions about our jobs, what we like to do for fun and they ask about our families. The kids are always asking for stickers and our trading cards. 

One day at lunch, I had a girl come up to where I was sitting and she sat her tray down, sat across from me and with her head down avoiding eye contact with me she said “My friends dared me to sit with you.” Sensing that the girl was shy, I said to her “You can look up,” which she did, and I told her that she didn’t need to be nervous. The girl immediately smiled and I asked her what her name was and I introduced myself to her. I asked her if she likes stickers and I gave her a sticker and a trading card. I told her that since she was the only brave one to come and sit with me, then she was the only one that got a sticker. She smiled again. For about the next 20 minutes, we sat there and we talked, we laughed and we shared stories about our families. When lunch was ending, the girl stood up and said to me “Next time you come to my lunch, I want to come and sit with you again.” This time I smiled.    

Another day a different girl came up to me and my partner and said, “I want to have lunch with the police.”  The girl sat down and said “I love the police,” which put a big smile on my face. After the girl sat down, about 8 other kids ran over to sit with us for lunch. We all talked and shared stories, laughing and joking, and all of the kids wanted stickers and trading cards. After we ate, the girl who said she loves the police asked my partner and I to please come outside and play soccer with her and her friends, which we did. When the bell rang for the kids to return to classes, the girl said to us “Please, please, please, will you walk me to my class?”  As my partner and I were walking her down the hall and back to her class, she looked up at us and said in a loud excited voice “This is awesome!” which put a huge smile on my face and a moment I won’t soon forget. When we arrived to the girl’s classroom, she was so excited to introduce us to her teacher and other classmates.

The First Responder Lunch Program is generously funded by the Bellingham Public Schools Foundation.

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