Throughout the country and across the world, life, as we know it, has changed. Individuals, families, businesses, and communities have been markedly impacted by the coronavirus and all of the changes to our daily lives that come along with our collective efforts to flatten the curve. We are inspired more and more each day by the creativity of community leaders, business owners, neighbors, and friends as they continue to step up and fill voids while many systems are required to come to a screeching halt. This is when the beauty of community, humanity, and togetherness are highlighted, and right here in the Heartland, a bright light is shining from small-town Nebraska… just 15 miles from Omaha in the town of Louisville.
The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” – Coretta Scott King.
Children Rely on School Lunch Programs
As schools have been forced to close amidst the cascade of mandates, shut-downs, and socially responsible closures, many children and families who rely on the school lunch program in order to access daily, nutritionally balanced meals are affected. “We need to be thinking about our families.” Said Andrew Farber, Superintendent of Louisville Public Schools. “Before all of this really started we anticipated being shut down and were fortunate enough to be in contact with some wonderful people with the State who were keeping us informed…” Farber added. According to County Health Rankings, approximately 33% of students in Cass and Sarpy Counties are eligible for free and reduced lunch, compared to 47% in nearby Douglas County.
Anticipating the need and the impact on families in their small and tightknit community, local community and school leaders sprung into action and reached out to DJ and Lindy Schmidt, owners of The Market, a newly opened grocery store in the heart of Main Street. Just months earlier, The Market opened in December of 2019 after the former town grocery store, Jeff’s Jack and Jill, had closed earlier that same year. As it is in many small towns across the nation, the grocery store is vital to a community, and many Louisville area residents relied on that store solely.
“I know that in order to have a vibrant small community, you have to have a grocery store…”. said store owner Lindy Schmidt, who had already been running a concierge produce business that sourced and delivered bundles of fresh produce to area customers. She had built a wonderful and dedicated customer base from surrounding communities and had aspirations of opening her own specialty grocery, providing locally sourced fresh produce and goods. After the former Jack and Jill had closed in August, one of Lindy’s customers asked: “What do you think about that grocery store?”
“Louisville is an amazing community,” Lindy said. “It is so important to have a store in a smaller town, and the city was a huge help in helping us.” The city of Louisville recognized the importance of keeping a full-service grocery store and offered their help and support to assist the Schmidt’s in making it happen. “I can’t stress how incredible this community is,” Lindy added. “…and in times like this, the sense of community and taking care of one another is critical.”
‘The Market’ Goes All In
Anticipating the need for area children and families, school and Community officials approached DJ and Lindy for ideas regarding trying to put something together for free and reduced lunch children. DJ and Lindy’s response was without hesitation, “We are all in..” and the wheels were swiftly in motion, brainstorming details and logistics of how they could all come together to collectively help kids and families in the community. “The greatest part of small towns is everyone is humble and nobody wants credit for it” Superintendent Farber stated. “The goal is to feed our families, and volunteers have taken this and run with it. Small town thoughtfulness… it truly is a treasure of Louisville.” he added.
“The goal is to help as many as we possibly can, for as long as there is a need. The longer this goes on and people understand the importance of social distancing and staying home, there will be more people staying home and in need. We’d like to help as many as possible.” Farber said.
“Our role will be to order and provide the food and put the packages together,” Lindy said. Confidentiality of the program’s participants is key, and organizers are making sure to honor that piece. The Market staff will handle ordering healthy and balanced goods and put together bundles that contain a week’s worth of groceries for the entire family for children on the program. School personnel will pick up the groceries from the store and distribute to each family. The Louisville community has caught wind if this initiative and has pitched in with time, money, and talent.
“They’ve been incredible” a community official, who prefers to remain anonymous, said of Lindy and DJ. “They just say ‘Let us know what you need and we can get it done.’ This community is amazing. You say ‘here’s a need’, and it gets filled” the official added.
The Schmidt’s moved to Louisville, with a population just shy of 1,300, in 2013. “I just always knew I wanted to do something on my own,” Lindy stated. “Corporate just didn’t light my fire anymore”. After having grown up in Duncan, Nebraska, with a population under 400, moving back to a small town is home to the Schmidt’s. “We just love Louisville…” Lindy said. “We are grounded and rooted here”. Just southwest of the Omaha/Metro area, Louisville residents like to say “We’re closer than you think”, and clearly that closeness is not just a nod to proximity.
Providing Hope To Children in Need
With neighbors, children, and families in need, there’s work to be done. “Our job right now is to provide hope and purpose.” Superintendent Farber said. “The value now of having a small-town store, the ability to get supplies, and remain socially conscious is huge,” he added. Farber, school officials, and the Schmidt’s all know that we are likely just at the cusp of how families will be impacted by ripple effects of the coronavirus and they are in this for the long haul. It is anticipated that as weeks go on and children continue to be out of school, this initiative will continually gain more participants. The Market will be ready and will proudly continue to serve the Louisville community. “It’s really important to recognize that Louisville is a little treasure, just 15 miles outside of Omaha…” Farber stated warmly. “People work and live in Omaha, come home and never forget that they are part of Louisville… we are one big family.”