Feeding people and feeding young minds is Megan Hotchkiss’ life. After Hurricane Irma swept through Florida on September 10, Hotchkiss did what her family does: She fed people.
Hotchkiss—who will graduate from Saint Leo University’s Madison Education Center in 2019 with a degree in elementary education—her fiancé, and her toddler daughter evacuated their new mobile home in Hamilton County, FL, before Irma struck. “When it was all clear, we went to the house and I saw the damage,” Hotchkiss said. A large oak fell on her home and destroyed one side. “I said, ‘I can’t deal with it now.’ I had to get the restaurant open. We had food. My loss had to be pushed to the back of my mind.”
The Saint Leo junior recently had opened Crossroads Contract Food Services, a café on the North Florida Community College campus. Her parents own Crossroads Market & Grill in Jasper, FL. “We went to the restaurant, got the generators going, and set up a buffet line so the community would have a place to convene and get hot food,” Hotchkiss said.
At 5 p.m., she received a call from Henry Land, emergency management director for Hamilton County. All of the county’s emergency personnel had to stay at the headquarters. He told Hotchkiss they needed to feed 150 people breakfast, lunch, and dinner. “I told him, ‘I’ll figure it out,’ and we made spaghetti,” Hotchkiss said with a laugh. A police escort led Hotchkiss to emergency management headquarters to serve the meals.
Then at 10 p.m., Land had another request. “He said, ‘I’ve got 300 electric workers coming and staying at the elementary school,’ ” Hotchkiss recalled. “ ‘Is there any way you can handle them?’ ”
Hotchkiss readily agreed. “I didn’t talk to my parents or anything,” she said. “I just said ‘yes.’ I was still in a state of shock.”
She told them not to be mad, but they would be feeding breakfast to the first 300 people at 4 a.m. She headed to the restaurant at 2 a.m., and was ready to serve the first group. Meals were served around the clock to electric workers who had traveled from throughout the country to restore power, as well as to emergency personnel.
For nearly a week, Hotchkiss and her family fed those who had left their own families to help.
“We survived on one or two hours of sleep a night,” she said. “I tried to go home, but the power was still out.”
The fallen tree damaged the electric box and left a gaping hole in the roof and water damage to the bathroom. “I was so crushed and so beaten,” Hotchkiss said. “There are very few times you feel that kind of despair. You let it consume you for an hour. I only gave myself a little time. I had to get the restaurant in Madison restocked because the campus was reopening.”
As she prepared for returning to classes, she was able to reach her Saint Leo instructors. “I told them my house is gone, Internet [connection] is just a dream,” she said. “I’ve never been one to ask for handouts. I’ve never asked for extra time for assignments. But Elisabeth [Ballew, education instructor] and Christy [Roebuck, Madison Education Center director] were there for me. I caught up in two weeks. I can only imagine if I’d chosen another school. Saint Leo was there for me. I walked into Christy’s office and just cried.”
Before entering Saint Leo, Hotchkiss already had earned an associate degree, but said she made the bad decision to wait to pursue a higher degree. Her sister, Edie Hotchkiss ’13, graduated from Saint Leo and encouraged her to enroll. She learned about Saint Leo’s education program, and its field placement program. “The internships really helped me to choose Saint Leo,” she said. “I wouldn’t have seen the inside of a classroom [as a student-teacher] until my senior year. The way Saint Leo structures curriculum is so student-friendly.”
The young entrepreneur always knew she wanted to be a teacher. “I’ve trained horses, I’ve been in early education, I’ve opened businesses, but truly, education is where my heart is,” she said.
As part of her Introduction to Education class, she joined a mentoring program. “I gained rapport with these kids who were in horrible situations,” Hotchkiss said. “I was able to reach five, and they graduated. I mentored 15 students in two years.”
Whether it’s feeding the community and those who help the community or teaching and mentoring youngsters, Hotchkiss embraces Saint Leo’s core values. “Every value we have in the university is essential to being a good human being,” she said.