Wauconda student group plans to give cops a free meal
A Wauconda High School student group that provides monthly inexpensive meals for local seniors and poor families is preparing to serve a very different group of diners -- Lake County's cops.
The free meal is planned at a time when anti-police sentiment is prominent across the nation. After several high-profile police-involved shootings and the murders of police officers in Dallas, Baton Rouge and other cities, tensions are high between police and civilians in many communities.
The timing of the dinner isn't an accident.
"The Wauconda FBLA organization would like to just say 'thank you' to police officers and all those who put their lives in danger every day to protect us," said Wendy Mills, the group's adviser. "You still do have people supporting you."
Wauconda Police Chief David Wermes appreciates the group's efforts and the support the greater Wauconda community has shown his department in recent months.
"This has been the strongest community and local business support I have seen in my 30 years in law enforcement," Wermes said. "It has been absolutely incredible."
The Meals for All program launched four years ago. Meals cost participants $1, and they're always held on the second Wednesday of each month during the school year.
The meals are offered so inexpensively because food is donated by Wauconda restaurants, including the Slyce Coal Fired Pizza Co., Lindy's Landing, and Docks Bar & Grill. This week's dinner is courtesy of Middleton's on Main and Bulldogs Grill.
The Wauconda Unit District 118 school board and local community groups have sponsored meals, too.
Wauconda High senior and club member Keegan Scherdin said he enjoys how the dinners bring people together.
"It's a magical feeling to see the smile on these people's faces when they see other regulars as they walk in, because they are excited to socialize," Scherdin said. "It really just strengthens the connections in our little town."
This is the first time the group has specifically added police officers to the guest list. Military veterans have been similarly honored in the past, Scherdin said.
In May, the group will invite Lake County's firefighters to a free Meals for All gathering.
Police officers won't need to wear uniforms to enjoy dinner. A badge or ID is suitable proof of service, Mills said.
To publicize the meal, students have given fliers to businesses and organizations in Wauconda and Island Lake.
Wermes has notified departments throughout Lake County of the event, too.
More than 1,300 full-time police officers and nearly 200 part-time police officers are on the job in Lake County, said Buffalo Grove Police Chief Steven Casstevens, the president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police.
Casstevens said he was thrilled to learn of the dinner and plans to attend.
Pro-police events normally are run by business groups or community service organizations, he said, not student groups.
"In my 39 years of law enforcement, I haven't seen something like this from students," he said. "I think it's terrific."
Although Wednesday's event is geared toward police officers, civilians are invited to eat for $1 as usual, Mills said.