The Bay family at school pickup for meals

Connecting Beyond the Classroom | The Helpers Next Door

Apr 22, 2020  | 104

by Abby Brown

Darren Hanna is a boots on the ground, ditch the suit, grab a raincoat and a smile type of leader. After many years in education, and now in his first year as superintendent of Emmetsburg Community School District, he knows what’s important for a school family: connection.

When Gov. Kim Reynolds first declared a State of Emergency in Iowa and recommended school closures, one of the first decisions Hanna made was to make sure food service could continue.

“The food service staff here is amazing,” he said, knowing food prep wouldn’t be an issue. But with limited time for communication, and needing to ensure compliance of new social distancing recommendations, Hanna wanted to be present at meal pick-up to make sure everything ran smoothly.

On a cold and rainy day, he parked his truck to mark the entrance for arriving families, bundled up and stepped outside to direct traffic. Parent and local business owner Kelly Bay arrived to pick up meals for her kids that day, stopping to snap a photo of Hanna and post it on Facebook.

“That was the day we decided to close our business,” said Bay. “Everything was so chaotic and terrifying and emotional.”

Hanna showed up to direct traffic, but ended up inspiring his community. The sight of him out in the cold and rain, waving at the students and their families, moved Bay to tears.

“Today I cried as the severity of it all came crashing down again,” wrote Bay on her post. “My kids won’t be seeing their beloved teachers, school staff and friends.”

As it sometimes happens in schools, staff members take on multiple roles. This year, Hanna is also serving as principal of West Elementary School. One of his favorite parts of the day is greeting students in the morning.

Realizing the tight-knit students and teachers were suddenly disconnected, Hanna showed up the next day at meal pick-up, and continues to use that opportunity to connect with those families, one wave at a time.

“I get as much out of it as they do,” he said. People wave back at him and hold up posters in the windows of their vehicles. On one particularly cold day, Hanna was even handed a blanket.

Bay’s Facebook post touched many, inspiring more than 900 reactions, comments and shares. It’s no surprise, given how moving her words from that day are.

“I remembered that isolated or not, we’re all in this together,” wrote Bay. “And even in our common darkness, we always have the ability to shine the light of love.️”