Sean Covel, a movie producer who grew up in Edgemont, was having breakfast with a friend in December and making small talk when he asked an apparently innocuous question.
“Are your kids excited for break?”
His friend is a kindergarten teacher at Robbinsdale Elementary School in Rapid City.
She said about half the students were excited, but the other half not so much. She explained that half her students are reliant on school-provided lunches and on Feeding South Dakota’s Back Pack Program, which provides children in need a backpack of food so they have a guaranteed meal at home.
Discovering that a dozen kindergartners might not have enough food for the two-week break was worrisome to Covel. Despite only having a couple of days to act, Covel thought of a way to help the students.
“Those 12 days become a long period of time if you don’t know where your next meal is gonna come from,” Covel said.
Inspired by the title of one of the movies he produced, "The 12 Dogs of Christmas," Covel came up with the name "12 Days of Pizza." Covel then reached out to Meg Warder, president of the 1880 Train in Keystone, who got him in touch with Jack Lynass, president and CEO of Black Hills Community Bank.
Covel told Lynass all he needed was a sponsorship from the bank. Lynass agreed, and asked Shawn Kerns, the commercial lender at the bank, if he knew of a pizza place that would like to help. Kerns suggested Pizza Ranch.
“It seems like a lot of work but it really took maybe a couple hours,” Lynass said.
Warder agreed to have the 1880 Train co-sponsor the program with the community bank.
“We didn’t wanna just go to Pizza Ranch at the last minute and say 'Would you provide pizza every day for 12 families at your cost?'” Lyness said. “So we just said ‘Whatever the cost is, the 1880 Train and Black Hills Community Bank will split the cost.'”
After about a 10-minute conversation, Covel said, the owners of Pizza Ranch committed to providing 144 meals.
“It was impressive,” Covel said. “They stepped up for the community in a really big way.”
Steve Cronin, and Terry Larsen, co-owners of both Rapid City Pizza Ranch locations, thought the pizza program was a great way to give back to the community that has given them so much. Children going home for winter break, and not knowing when they’ll be able to eat a hearty meal, was disconcerting to the owners, Cronin said.
Pizza Ranch made gift certificates to present to the teacher for her to give to the students. The owners designed the certificates so that all three companies — Pizza Ranch, 1880s Train and Black Hills Community Bank — could split the cost of the pizzas. But Cronin said the cost didn’t matter as much as the fact that they were helping the children and their families.
The certificates last through the end of January and offered families a pizza or an 8-piece order of chicken. Each of the 12 families got 12 certificates. Families had the choice to have their meal delivered, order it for pickup or dine in.