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Daily Journal
     March 23, 2020      #35-83 KDJ
 

Local schools offer free meals for students during

By Stephanie Markham
smarkham@daily-journal.com


By the third day Bradley Elementary School District 61 administrators drove around to deliver meals to students, some kids were waiting in their windows for their principals to arrive.

“I think it’s a highlight of their morning to get to see their principals,” said Bradley Central principal Mark Kohl, who drove the bus. “It’s been really good for the students to see us out in their community and at their doorstep helping them out.”

In response to mandated school closures across Illinois, which began March 17 and will extend to at least April 7, many local school districts provided free breakfasts and lunches for their students this past week.

Food services will not be offered during spring break from March 23 to 27; however, districts have been preparing for the possibility of extended school closures, and most plan to resume food services March 30.

Kohl said administrators had an emergency meeting last Saturday, and one of the main concerns was students getting enough food.

In addition to offering grab-and-go meals at Bradley Central, the team made a list of about 75 students they thought might have difficulty getting to the school to pick up meals.

The district’s food service staff prepared daily meals, and a group of five to six administrators drove around Bradley for about two hours each day to deliver them.

Kohl said offering continued food service is especially important because more than half of the district’s students are from low-income households.

“We’re sad for our kids,” Kohl said. “We care about our students so much; we put so much into our students that we just worry about them.”

Though they are concerned, the administrators also enjoyed being able to give back to students during this difficult time, he said.

“Really we’re in this business for kids, for students,” Kohl said. “We actually love seeing them these mornings as well, because we’re missing out on them for that opportunity to just to show that we care about them and that we think a lot of them.”

Momence Community Unit School District 1 also delivered meals to students this past week while they were unable to attend school.

Superintendent Shannon Anderson said the district decided to take it a step further than grab-and-go meals, a critical decision since about 72 percent of students qualify for free- and reduced- lunch.

“You’ve seen what’s going on in the grocery stores; it’s a challenge for anybody right now to get good meals and good food in the homes,” he said. “We knew that we could provide that, so we just thought this would be something to get to our kids so we could guarantee they would eat, because you can’t learn without being able to eat.”

Food service staff prepared about 372 breakfasts and lunches per day, and Central Illinois bus drivers delivered the meals to students over about a two-hour period. In addition to the meals, one of the school librarians had the idea to deliver books to students as well.

“This is just another effort to keep them engaged during this time with continued learning,” Anderson said.

Anderson said he boarded one of the bus routes, and the looks on students’ faces were evidence that the effort is worth it.

“They were smiling and happy to see us because they haven’t seen their staff and people for a while, and in some cases a sense of relief,” he said. “You could see some of the little ones just happy to get a meal and have some sense of school during this time.”

Many other districts, including Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School District 307, offered grab-and-go meals this past week for students and parents to come pick up as needed.

Superintendent Scott Wakeley said only about 20 students were picking up meals each day, and the district plans to bring meals to families at certain meeting points after spring break. About 40 percent of students at BBCHS are considered low-income, he said.

“We always say in BBCHS, the C stands for community; this is a community high school,” he said. “So when the community is hurting and we have unprecedented issues, a pandemic, like we have now, it’s part of our mission as a public school to help the community out.”

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Stephanie Markham