There is an incredible movement of kindness happening at Fargo’s Ben Franklin Middle School. I don’t know the exact process of the evolution, but it seems to go something like this.


First, there was a principal named John Nelson who reminded the students every day of his personal philosophy: The school is a family, and everyone who sets foot in the building needs to look out for each other.

Then, little kindnesses began to happen, like when the teachers brought new sweatshirts or socks for students who were going without.

Now, the entire Ben Franklin community is coming together in a major way to make sure that the kindness felt on school grounds follows the students home.

It’s called the Hot Dish Club.

Last spring, two teachers overheard students talking about how they don’t get warm meals at night in their homes. These teachers, Deb Hallquist and Katie Love, felt so strongly about providing for their students that they decided to take action. They pooled their time and money to start the Hot Dish Club.

Deb and Katie sent out a survey to every student in the building to find out who needed a meal and who wanted to volunteer. About 15 students admitted they needed the food and another dozen committed to helping.

Now, every other Tuesday after school, you can find a group of students finding common ground over a hotdish recipe. When they’re done measuring and mixing, they take their aluminum pans onto a bus waiting to take them home. The students bake their dinner in their own kitchens so the whole family can enjoy the aroma and the taste of a home-cooked meal.

Deb and Katie still run the program, but they no longer have to foot the entire bill. After sending out an email to their fellow staff members, contributions exploded. Their peers wanted to help and so did many others. Sam’s Club gives a monthly gift card, a Bell State Bank & Trust employee gave his Pay it Forward money, parents drop off grocery store cards, a Secret Santa delivered $250, a Girl Scout troop collected a pantry full of food, and many Ben Franklin students even donate their allowances.

A group of Fargo North students heard about the program and made chili so the kids would have a warm meal over the long Christmas break.

Several North Dakota State University students have started stopping by Ben Franklin on Hot Dish Tuesdays to help put together the meals.

Deb and Katie say they love hearing the reactions of their Hot Dish Club members when they report back to school the next day. The kids are proud that they learned how to create a meal and provide for their families.

When I asked the teachers what they wanted from the community, both Deb and Katie said they wanted to make sure you knew that this seemingly large act of kindness is quite simple and could easily be duplicated in other schools, churches and senior centers. They hope the Hot Dish Club becomes contagious, because in their experience, kindness is a dish best served hot.

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND, 58107.


Nicole Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo, and currently the Executive Director of Diva Connection Foundation. She is the mother of three kids and the wife of Bison Men’s Head Basketball Coach Saul Phillips. Her columns run every Saturday.