Free food, big surprise at Ave Maria Academy

Jessica Balsom gave a shout out to her kids’ teachers for doing a great job in the face of great adversity. Those kind words turned into a big surprise, and a big donation for their school.

Balsom has a son, Grady, in the fifth grade, and a daughter, Natalie, in the third grade at Ave Maria Academy’s Mount Lebanon campus.  She heard that McDonald’s was providing free breakfasts to educators nationwide. So, she posted the news on the school’s Facebook page and took to Twitter praising teachers Sandra Ondriezek and Melanie Kutchell.

The fast food company wanted to learn more—and do more.  They donated $25,000 to Ave Maria Academy for its theatrical productions. The school hasn’t staged a show since 2019.

“I was just trying to get the teachers some breakfast!” Balsom said, half-jokingly, still in shock over the award, which was announced at a student assembly on Oct. 28.

“We heard your stories, and we were so inspired by all that you do inside and outside of the classroom,” Heather Garcia of McDonald’s told Ondriezek and Kutchell. “It’s been so moving to see over these past several months how local communities lean on each other to get through the good and the bad. Nowhere is that more visible than in schools.”

Kutchell—who along with other teachers have worked tirelessly through COVID and a merger that brought four schools into one with two campuses—also couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

“It took me by complete surprise,” she said. “It was very touching, very sweet. All the teachers here work hard. They all deserve recognition.”

“We are truly blessed to have teachers such as Mrs. Kutchell and Ms. Ondriezek who exemplify the tenets of our Catholic faith to not only our students, but to the entire faith community,” said principal Leslie Krueger.

“It feels like a God thing,” Balsom said. “All the teachers have been going through so much. It’s great to do something for them, and it’s good to have something to celebrate.”

Photos by Brianna Kristian Photography and Design