Heather Schrantz, the principal at Blue Ball Elementary School, hopped out of a white SUV Friday afternoon, popped the trunk and grabbed a fistful of brown bagged lunches.
“Hey,” she said to two boys waiting in front of a rundown, shed-like structure shaded by overgrown shrubs in the Welsh Mountain area east of New Holland. “I’ve got some good stuff for ya.”
She handed the boys bag after bag. Then an entire tray of macaroni and cheese. Then two cases of water that the family of eight uses in place of contaminated well water.
After the trunk was nearly empty, Schrantz hopped back into the car, backed out of the gravel driveway and headed to her next stop.
Schrantz, 45, spends every summertime lunch break this way — often sacrificing her own lunch in the process.
CrossNet Ministries, a faith-based community group serving Eastern Lancaster County School District residents, prepares and packages the meals. A volunteer drives them to Blue Ball, and Schrantz takes them from there.
She delivers about 40 lunches throughout the Blue Ball, Morgantown, Terre Hill and Welsh Mountain areas — a task that takes about an hour and a half each weekday afternoon. When Schrantz is unavailable, teachers are quick to step in, she said.
Lunches include the usual fixings. Monday’s lunch, for example, was a ham and cheese sandwich, potato chips, pretzels, an orange, a package of shortbread cookies and lemonade.
CrossNet has several locations to pick up free meals. But many in the rural Elanco community can’t make it there. That’s where Schrantz comes in.
“They’re hard-working and they’re proud and they want to take care of their kids,” Schrantz said. “But they need some help.”
Serving low-income families
Schrantz admits it’s the high point of her day. Being able to lift up families in a small way, she feels, is her duty as principal, a position she’s held for a year.
“Public school is the last place that everybody passes through,” she said. “This needs to be the hub of what’s going on in the community.”
It’s also a way to stay connected with families who she knows are struggling financially.
And it doesn’t stop with food.
If there’s an issue — whether it’s backed up plumbing or a broken refrigerator, Schrantz, usually with CrossNet’s help, ensures families get connected to the right resources.
‘There’s no judgment’
Of the 576 students at Blue Ball, 53% are considered economically disadvantaged. Districtwide, nearly 49% of the 3,143 students are economically disadvantaged.
To make things worse, social services can be hard to come by in Elanco, which takes up 97 square miles, and other sparse, rural communities. And requests to help aren’t always well-received, Schrantz said.
“There’s a pride factor,” she said. Some, she added, fear that their children could be taken from them if they ask for help. Others, she said, simply aren’t used to being asked.
But Schrantz said she hopes to break that stigma and open the door for more people who have fallen on tough times.
“There’s no judgment,” she said. “The fact is, every once in a while, a human being needs help.”
Sigh of relief
One of her last stops on Friday was a mobile home park in Narvon. There she met one of Blue Ball’s bus drivers, Sherri Pfitzenmeyer, who delivered about a dozen lunches throughout the neighborhood.
The kids, for whom this might be the only meal of the day, are always excited and grateful when lunch comes. Pfitzenmeyer said. And parents, she said, breathe a sigh of relief.
“They’re actually lifting all of us probably higher than we are them,” she said.