Lunch Buddies

Three photos of Lunch Buddies mentors and mentees: a woman and boy play the game Trouble, a woman and girl eat m&ms, a man and boy play the game battleship

What is Lunch Buddies? Lunch Buddies logo: brown lunch bag with red apple

UWNEMN's Lunch Buddies mentoring program matches elementary school children with caring adult mentors to share one lunch break/week at school. The  program was originally piloted in Hibbing's Washington and Greenhaven schools in 2020 and paired 16 first graders with mentors. The original pilot program was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the program is being re-piloted this spring at Keewatin Elementary and Merritt Elementary. UWNEMN developed this program with input from regional partners and direct support from MENTOR Minnesota.

What is the need?

At the time the original Lunch Buddies pilot was launched, Hibbing school staff estimated more than 30 percent of their students could benefit from a program like this.

The pandemic has exacerbated adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and is itself widely considered its own ACE. This is concerning as four or more ACEs are indicators for serious mental and physical health issues into adulthood. Recent local research indicates the number of children facing four or more ACEs has jumped to nearly 25% due to the pandemic. Research also indicates that early intervention and healthy relationships with adults are key to decreasing these risks, and that's exactly what Lunch Buddies does!


UWNEMN's Lunch Buddies mentoring program screens and trains local adults and matches them with a local student who could benefit from an additional positive adult role Model to meet once a week at school during the lunch hour!

How it Works

  1. School enrolls in the Lunch Buddies program.
  2. UWNEMN begins recruiting and screening mentors from nearby communities.
  3. School staff refers children for program and collects parent signatures on UWNEMN-provided materials.
  4. School selects Lunch Buddies day and provides room to be used once/week for Lunch Buddies.
  5. UWNEMN matches mentors with enrolled students, trains mentors, and coordinates meeting dates.
  6. Children receive additional support from a trustworthy adult friend!

Interested in learning more?

Contact or 218-254-3329.

Here are ways you can get involved to make a difference in the life of a local child!

Enroll Your School

If you'd like to bring Lunch Buddies mentoring program to your school in the 2022-2023 school year, please contact or 218-254-3329 to set up a preliminary meeting. As soon as a Lunch Buddies day and location is established for your school, UWNEMN can begin recruiting mentors - even over the summer!

School requirements:

  • Provide a private room during the lunch hour for Lunch Buddies mentors and mentees.
  • Refer students, collect appropriate paperwork from students' guardian(s), and return paperwork to UWNEMN.
  • This program is currently for elementary schools only.

Ideally the program is meant to take place throughout the entire school year with first or second grade students, but schedules and age ranges can be flexible depending on school needs.

Apply to Be a Mentor

Applications are currently closed for the 2021-2022 school year, but if you are interested in serving as a Lunch Buddies mentor in the 2022-2023 school year please contact or 218-254-3329 to get on a list for more information on participating schools next school year.

Mentor requirements:

  • Mentors must be 18+.
  • Have ability to travel to school on a weekly basis.
  • Complete an application, fill out an interest survey (for matching with mentors), and provide references.
  • Pass a background check and interview with UWNEMN program staff.
  • Complete training.
  • Commit to meeting with mentee one hour/week for designated length of program. 

For the 2021-2022 mentor role description, click here.

Donate to Support the Program

Donations to UWNEMN's Lunch Buddies program provide games and activities for mentors/mentees, training and screening for mentors, and coordination of the program. Click here to donate to the program!