The students huddled together at tables. Freeman High School students over there, middle schoolers over here. The kids from elementary school kept close to their parents, but all grabbed pastries or plates heaped with biscuits and gravy, waffles dripping in berry compote and baked oatmeal.
Chaps Diner and Bakery was closed to the public Thursday, but open – and free – for everyone in the Freeman community and emergency responders.
“Kids want to be with their friends,” said Celeste Shaw, the restaurant’s owner. “This is a safe, comfortable space and they’re being fed. They need to be together.”
Shaw, whose granddaughter, Audrey, is a first-grader at Freeman, said she didn’t once question her idea to open the doors when she heard about Wednesday’s shooting at the high school. In her former career as a trauma nurse, she remembered the camaraderie that was needed during the most trying times.
The solace found in shared experience was on display at Chaps.
Amelie Broussard, 14, is a freshman at the high school. Her friends were on their way to the bakery to join the 50 other people who filled the dining area around 10 a.m., and she was waiting for them to eat.
The day before was “definitely tough,” she said, and she was “still in shock.” But she appreciated the space Chaps provided.
“I think it was really nice for them to do this,” Broussard said.
McKenna, an eighth-grader, sat with her friends, Nolan and Isaiah, sipping Italian sodas. Her sister and brother go to the high school, and they were sitting with their friends at nearby tables.
“I’m grateful we get to be here with our friends,” she said.
At the counter, a wicker basket was filled with cash for the family of the boy who was killed. Below the basket, a sign in a child’s scrawl read, “We Love Freeman.”
Shaw said she had about 15 people working, who all volunteered to come in. Her friend, and former state representative, Kevin Parker, worked the espresso machine with employees from his Dutch Bros. Coffee franchise.
Parker was in the cafeteria of Columbine High School in Littelton, Colorado, as a school volunteer in 1999 when two students murdered 12 classmates and a teacher. But he said Wednesday’s event was “much more emotional, because it was in our backyard.”
“Our community is hurting pretty deeply,” he said.
Parker said it was important for the young people to be together and share their experiences. Same for their parents.
“If they’re a parent, realize their kids want and need to be together,” he said.
He urged everyone to look for opportunities to volunteer over the coming weeks and recommended simpler, if more important, actions in daily lives.
“Be kind,” he said. “Kind gestures are really significant.”
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