Gate City Bank volunteers Michelle Neumiller and Jacque Erickson smile while serving sandwiches at Jamestown Middle School

Easing a Lunch Crunch at Jamestown Middle School.

JAMESTOWN, ND – The world of mortgage lending may be Michelle Neumiller’s playground, but she’s also found pure joy in a local lunchroom, where her humble efforts to help an understaffed school have inspired a community movement.

It was a delightful autumn morning as Michelle Neumiller strolled across the Jamestown Middle School parking lot. The sun was shining, the air was crisp and the hubbub of excited students scurrying off to their next class grew louder as she approached the front doors. It didn’t seem like the day could possibly get any brighter – yet she knew that it would. She had been looking forward to this moment all week.

As Neumiller entered the building, wiped her feet and slipped off her jacket, a curious head poked out of a nearby office and hollered a friendly welcome. “Well, if it isn’t Michelle from Gate City Bank!” boomed Principal Mark Stilwell before launching out of his roller chair, darting into the entryway and planting his feet at her side. “It must be Thursday,” he added with a grin.

Neumiller had gotten to know many of the school’s faculty and staff members well in recent months. She had come to see them as family, and their energetic greetings never failed to warm her heart. After taking a few minutes to catch up with Stilwell, Neumiller made her routine trek down the hall and into the cafeteria, where a hairnet, gloves and serving utensils were waiting with her name on them.

It was time to get to work.

Gate City Bank volunteers Michelle Neumiller and Jacque Erickson smile with Jamestown Middle School Principal Mark Stilwell
Principal Mark Stilwell is one of the many Jamestown Middle School staff members that Michelle Neumiller (left) and other Gate City Bank team members have come to see as family while volunteering in the school’s lunchroom.

Out to [Serve] Lunch.

As Neumiller began prepping for the upcoming lunch rush, she thought back to how this had all started. Just two months earlier, the idea of volunteering at the school wasn’t even on her radar. She already had plenty on her plate when it came to helping her customers, raising her three girls and working the family farm, but then life served up something unexpected: a beautiful opportunity to make a local impact.

It all started with a string of emails. Neumiller had always enjoyed receiving the district’s regular e-newsletters – from concerts to sporting events to staff anniversary announcements and everything in between, they had always been a great way for her to stay up to date on the latest and greatest. Not to mention, they were a steady source of happy news. That is, until September 2023 rolled around.

“The emails started showing a growing list of vacant positions throughout the entire school system, especially in the lunchrooms,” says Neumiller, Assistant Vice President, Mortgage Lender at Gate City Bank. “The staff shortage kept getting worse and worse, and then it just hit me one day. I wanted to help in any way I could, so I met with the middle school lunch director and offered to volunteer for a day.”

The staff were over the moon when they heard Neumiller’s heartfelt offer, and they gladly took her up on it. She remembers that first day like it was yesterday. One by one, as each student came through the lunch line, they thanked her for showing up to help out. And once the entire student body had been seated in the cafeteria, they broke into applause to show Neumiller their appreciation for her kindness.

“While it had been operated by a skeleton crew, that cafeteria was so full of life, and the kids were simply wonderful. I absolutely loved serving and engaging with them that day,” Neumiller says. “I’ve always been big on leading by example, and it was a wonderful experience, a nice change of pace.”

Neumiller had immediately felt at home with everyone at the school, and the moment she hung up her hairnet at the end of her shift, she knew one thing with absolute certainty – she wanted to volunteer again. Little did the staff know, she’d be coming back for seconds the following week.

Gate City Bank volunteers Michelle Neumiller and Jacque Erickson pose with some of the Jamestown Middle School lunch staff
After what was anticipated to be a one-time volunteer visit, Neumiller pleasantly surprised the Jamestown Middle School lunchroom staff by coming back to help out every Thursday. She even brought fellow team members with her.

On Loan to Jamestown Middle School.

When Neumiller had returned to Gate City Bank that first afternoon, she approached her supervisor with the idea of serving lunch at the school once a week. Seeing her excitement and passion for giving back, he approved her request on the spot. Not only that, when it came time to return to the school the following week, he even encouraged her to bring one or two fellow team members along, as well.

“He was so supportive. Gate City Bank promotes a culture where team members are encouraged to give back and volunteer in the community, especially for things we care deeply about. It means everything to be able to make a difference,” Neumiller says. “And when the lunchroom director heard that we were going to show up every week to help, she immediately gave me a big hug.”

So, like clockwork, Neumiller and her colleagues started visiting the middle school every Thursday from 10:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. It didn’t take long for others to take notice, and before anyone knew it, multiple businesses had signed up for a day to help. Neumiller had officially sparked a community movement – everyone wanted in on the lunch line crunch time. The Jamestown Sun even picked up the story.

“It’s very humbling to see how something seemingly so simple can blossom into something beautiful that the whole community can take part in,” she says. “We’re all working together, which has been great.”

Principal Stilwell and the rest of the staff at Jamestown Middle School echo that sentiment. The assistance Gate City Bank and other community partners have provided in the lunchroom has meant everything.

“We truly appreciate the team at Gate City Bank. As busy as all of us are, they found time in their day to come and help us,” Stilwell says. “We’re incredibly blessed to live in a community where people care about meeting needs, especially the needs of kids in this case. This especially meant a lot to our kitchen staff.”

Gate City Bank team members at their Jamestown, ND, location huddle for a picture around the bank’s 100<sup>th</sup> anniversary logo
Team members throughout Gate City Bank believe wholeheartedly in giving back to the communities where they live and work. Neumiller and her local team have exemplified this by assisting Jamestown Middle School.

‘May You Be Proud.’

While volunteering at Jamestown Middle School, the Gate City Bank crew has been reminded that it’s often the little things that make a big difference. For example, having grown up on a farm, Neumiller has been reminded of how the nation’s food production comes full circle. And by simply serving lunch, her team is helping to make sure the next generation is well-nourished, so they can grow and succeed in life.

They’ve been surprised with other not-so-little things, too. One day, when Neumiller and the Gate City Bank team reported for their regular lunchroom duty, the staff members surprised them with key chains that read, “May you be proud of the work you do, the person you are and the difference you make.” She carries hers around with her everywhere, as a reminder of the beautiful new friendships she’s created.

“Everyone at the school has been so kind, and that gift really meant the world to us,” Neumiller says. “To stand with them in being a small part of the kids’ day, and to see all those smiling faces, has been wonderful. We set out to help the school, but truth be told – they’ve helped us.”

Other Community Giving Initiatives:

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