Feeding kids and nurturing a community
Cara Van Steenis has five scrapbooks she inherited from her dad. But rather than pictures of graduations or weddings, each page shows another thank you card or photo from a local community member – appreciation for all her family gave back over the years when her dad ran four McDonald’s locations in southeast Iowa.
Today, Cara is a second generation McDonald’s Owner/Operator with 14 restaurants of her own in the region, and she continues to support, feed and foster her community.
“People are important to me –my crew, my customers—and we’ve had such great support from our communities,” Cara says. “I’m so blessed to be at McDonald’s and this is a way to give back.”
When the pandemic started in the spring, Cara stepped up to support children in particular by working closely with the local schools.
“Many of my restaurants are in communities where kids have free lunches and it was such a problem for them with schools shutting down. That’s what tugged at my heart,” Cara says.
We're such a big presence in these little towns, I thought, 'What can we do to make a difference?'
Cara started by donating 5,000 Happy Meal gift cards to a local school district to help provide children with an extra meal beyond the school’s program. In another district that delivered free meals to students at home, Cara and her team tagged along one day to surprise kids with free Happy Meals, giving away nearly 700 meals.
“That was my favorite day. It was such a good day!” Cara says. “My whole team came together, and I even recruited my sister to help make 700 Happy Meals in one morning. That was beyond stressful,” she says and laughs.
More recently, with kids stuck at home, Cara and her team stationed a mailbox outside her Oskaloosa, Iowa, McDonald’s stocked with free activity books and coloring supplies.
“We’re always coming up with more ideas. My whole team is really focused on supporting the community,” Cara explains.
After all, it’s a family tradition.