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Willmar Schools seeking volunteers to help out in school cafeterias; some success in hiring but district still seeking employees

While still looking for employees, Willmar's schools have had some luck in hiring employees for its school health offices. The school district is asking for volunteers to help out with serving lunches in the schools.

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Jan Damhof, a food service assistant at Lakeview Elementary School in Willmar, prepares for the next group of students to come through the serving lines Nov. 11. The school district is seeking volunteers to help out during lunch periods. Linda Vanderwerf / West Central Tribune
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WILLMAR — Health offices in Willmar Public Schools have new staff members on the way, as the school district has had some success in filling its open jobs.

However, as some jobs have been filled, others have opened, so the search for more workers continues, Human Resources Director Liz Windingstad told the Willmar School Board this week.

After having little luck finding people to apply for some food service jobs, a call for help has gone out for for volunteers.

Information about volunteering with Food and Nutrition Services is available on the district’s home page, willmar.k12.mn.us , under "WPS District News." A link is available on the school website, and the plea has been distributed via social media.

Volunteers will be asked to complete a volunteer background check and then will be able to sign up for volunteer shifts at elementary, middle or high schools.

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A shift will last three hours and 15 minutes, and volunteers will receive a free lunch before they start. Volunteers will be able to choose how many days they work. Most information is available on the website.

Volunteers have started working in schools. Food service employees at Lakeland Elementary School said Thursday that they had already had one volunteer work with them Wednesday and were looking forward to having two more Friday.

Food service assistants Jan Damhof of Blomkest and Alyssa Dillard of Willmar said they were pleased to have volunteers coming to help them and to see what they do.

"I love my job; I love the kids," Damhof said. "They make my day."

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Food Service assistant Alyssa Dillard prepares to serve students in the lunch line at Willmar Lakeland Elementary School Nov. 11. The district is seeking volunteers to help out in school cafeterias. Linda Vanderwerf / West Central Tribune

Windingstad said the district has been successful in one area — four people have been hired to answer phones in school health offices around the district, taking pressure off school nurses. Two of the four are bilingual.

Two registered nurses have been hired, too. One is in a float position, going where needed around the district. The other has been hired to back up the district’s COVID coordinator and also work where needed in the buildings.

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All the health positions are currently considered one-year positions, Windingstad said.

Liz Windingstad photo
Liz Windingstad, Willmar Schools Human Resources Director Erica DIschino / West Central Tribune file photo
Erica Dischino

In other areas, the district is still looking for bilingual employees and for 10 special education paraprofessionals, she said. A math teacher and a special education teacher are also needed, as well as people to be available as substitutes.

Windingstad reported on the district’s rapid testing program for employees. It’s available each morning at the Willmar Education and Arts Center . A total of 381 employees were tested in the first month of the program, with a 14.7% positivity rate.

The district is developing a plan for implementing a rule from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, requiring employees of larger employers to be vaccinated or to submit to weekly testing and wear masks, she said. The rule is currently on hold in the courts.

Windingstad said the district will keep employees informed as the issue moves through the courts. The rule was set to go into effect Jan. 4, with unvaccinated employees required to begin wearing masks at work on Dec. 5.

Click to read more about Education .

In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: lvanderwerf@wctrib.com or phone 320-214-4340
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