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Emily Copelin

The Way to a Teacher’s Heart? Porkchop Casserole.


“The fact that they can organize this with their busy schedules and make it happen, I think that’s pretty admirable.”

Sharing a meal is a simple but accessible act of empathy that creates a connection out of sustenance and conversation. When that meal is presented in appreciation of your hard-earned work, then, hey, all the better! A group of dedicated women in our community have made it their mission to feed not just the body but offer a little something for the soul. Humble chef Emily Copelin and her priceless volunteers, some of whom include daughter Elyse Copelin, Leah Lyons, and Cathleen Nelson, serve a monthly meal to Waverly district staff, blending the spices of thankfulness and recognition into every dish they prepare.

The initiative is rooted in Emily’s faith and commitment to the Lord. Initially contemplating a community cookie drive during a youth conference camp, she soon realized a monthly meal made more sense. “It was hard to do cookies,” Emily recalls. “I wanted to do a meal once a month. I thought, ‘I’ll put this on Facebook and see if there’s interest.’” Her social media call for donations and volunteers was heartily answered. Thanks to Emily’s careful listing of items needed for each meal, donations poured in, sometimes in the form of cash or specific ingredients. Most volunteers for the operation hail from Waverly First Baptist Church, where Cathleen Nelson serves as the Children and Youth Director, but include members from all over the community. Waverly First Baptist is no stranger to charity, often hosting back-to-school lunches and youth programs.

The tradition of serving monthly meals has been happening for six years and involves multiple generations. Emily’s daughter Elyse, who graduated from the district in 2020 and is now a junior in college, is proud of the work her mother and the group of women have been doing. “I don’t think that many schools have a group that works with the teachers or provides anything for the teachers, other than Teacher Appreciation Week. The fact that they can organize this with their busy schedules and make it happen, I think that’s pretty admirable,” she says.

The act of kindness doesn’t go unnoticed among the teaching staff. “The teachers do look forward to it. They’re like, ‘I’m so excited,’ or they’ll comment on Facebook, ‘What will you serve tomorrow?’” The menu varies but always includes Emily’s staples, such as pork chop casserole, meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy, and the ever-popular mac and cheese. Not to forget, the pièce de résistance each year is a Thanksgiving feast, complete with ham, turkey, and all the fixings.

It’s common for Emily and her band of culinary Samaritans to prepare and serve food to over 70 people at a time. The teacher appreciation meal is served every month of the school year in the high and grade school lounges. When we arrived to speak to these committed agents of charity, we were welcomed by the tantalizing aroma of pulled pork, homemade mac and cheese, green beans, and coleslaw. This is one perk we can envy.

Emily and her group’s labor of love reminds us all that sometimes, the most straightforward acts can have the most profound impacts. In a world where the value of education and educators is often overlooked, their monthly meals serve as a nourishing reminder that our teachers are treasured, and their efforts deserve acknowledgment. Their presence in our lives is a cause for celebration, so bon appétit.

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