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Soup Swap Provides Ill Teacher with Ready-Made Meals

Nickels Intermediate School teacher Deb Balk is constantly warming the hearts of people around her, colleagues say, so it made perfect sense to give her something comforting while she undergoes treatment for cancer.

More than 20 teachers participated in a recent soup swap to load Balk up with easy-to-prepare meals like homemade broccoli cheese, lentil, taco chicken chili and other favorite recipes.

Balk, a sixth-grade language arts and social studies teacher, is battling a recurrence of breast cancer and recently started chemotherapy treatments. Her final day teaching was Feb. 14, when students and staff members showed their support with a school-wide Pink Out assembly. She plans to return next school year.

Balk, a mother of three children ages 21, 18 and 14, lives in Hudsonville with her husband, James Balk. First diagnosed in December 2010, she underwent surgery and treatments, which led to remission. A former Jenison Christian Schools teacher, she began teaching at Nickels last school year.Teachers swap soup, with some of each kind donated to teacher Deb Balk

Soup for the Staff

Principal Tom Trout came up with the idea to swap soup, and teachers brought in plenty to share with each other as well as with Balk.

“We wanted to do something to help Deb,” said Trout, who prepared a sausage tortellini recipe.  “I thought, ‘Let’s do something fun for the staff that would also be beneficial to her.'”

He saw it as a way to “warm hearts, connect with each other and help each other,” things Balk is goodat.  Trout said she is the staff’s biggest cheerleader, known for “Deb-isms” such as her favorite phrase, “grace and peace.”

Balk said the soup is the perfect gift. Like Nickels’ staff, it’s there when she needs it.

“I kind of think of it like them,” she said. “I see it as a real gift from God that they would do this for me.”

Students show support for their teacher Deb BalkSixth-grade teachers Becky Hanson and Jamie Morningstar both received a text from Balk the morning of the soup swap to wish them good luck with conferences.

“She’s just constantly thinking about everybody else,” said Morningstar. “She’s a great, great person.”

Balk’s classroom is next door to Hanson’s, who is used to hearing her enthusiastic voice throughout the day.

“She is a wonderful teacher with a huge heart who wishes she could be here every day,” Hanson said. “She’s such a fighter and she has such a great faith that is helping her and her family get through this.

“I miss hearing her through the wall.”

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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