TRAVERSE CITY — It was a freak situation from the start.
The boiler went out at Old Mission School the night of Feb. 8 — a Monday. The fault was caught in the evening and repaired right away.
However, hundreds of students were due back in-person for classes the next morning. The school was still a chilly 55 degrees inside with outdoor temperatures dropping into single digits, and the repaired boiler was going to take at least an hour to warm the school up to normal temperatures. Students could learn if they stayed in their jackets, but it might be a little uncomfortable.
Co-Principal Renee Kollie reached out to Parent Teacher Organization President Rebecca Schubert with a solution.
“What do you think we could do? Could we do hot chocolate?” Schubert recalled.
Schubert’s phone calls landed at The Omelette Shoppe on Front Street. The request: Approximately 200 hot chocolates as soon as possible. It was 8:30 a.m.
“I scrambled around a little bit, like how can we do this?” General Manager Jen Ferris said. “We put them in different containers, we had some catering carry out containers, and I told her we’d make it work.”
Schubert was told to come in at 9 a.m., ready to pay whatever cost would be. Upon arrival, Ferris never came up with one.
“You know what, it’s on the house,” Ferris said. “We sent her off with everything and she (Schubert) said, ‘I’m gonna blast this on social media’ and I said ‘You don’t need to do that, that’s not why we did it.’
“I just thought it’s for a school and these kids are cold, with everything that’s going on, let’s pay it forward.”
The 30-minute cost-free catered order came just two weeks after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and her administration permitted restaurants to resume indoor dining at the beginning of February.
Schubert said it brought her to tears.
“These restaurants have been through so much with this pandemic,” Schubert said. “What a huge surprise for them to do this for free to our school.”
Once the hot chocolate made its way back to the school, the saga didn’t end with with warm students.
At least 50 handwritten thank you notes were written by students and classes to the Omelette Shoppe for the gesture, with many saying things like “It was the best hot chocolate I had.”
Schubert dropped the notes off the following Thursday.
Kollie said by the following Friday morning, another stack was on its way.
The notes are now on display in the restaurant’s lobby.
“One of them on the front of it has an octopus drawn on it,” Kollie said. “I’m not sure how that relates to hot cocoa, but hey, the message inside is great.”
Kollie said in the back of her mind, she thought it would be great to help a small business that might be struggling financially in the context of the pandemic by making a large purchase.
She called what happened next “incredible.”
“It just shows, you know, with small businesses in the community, how important it is to support them because they have such huge hearts,” Schubert said.