With schools across Illinois forced to close because of the coronavirus pandemic, teachers, administrators and support staff have been working hard from home to help students continue their education. In many cases, they’ve also had to figure out how to make meals available to children and families who need them.
At Culver School, staffers have been assembling packages of healthy breakfasts, lunches and snacks for families to pick up on Fridays. Each package contains five days’ worth of food. Since the first pickup on March 20, the weekly demand has grown from about 40 packs to more than 220.
For many years, U.S. public schools have offered free and reduced-price lunches, and later breakfasts, to children from qualifying families with federal and state support. The stresses imposed by the shutdown have made it clear just how important these meals can be.
“It’s absolutely what the families need,” said Debra Jordan, District 71 assistant to the superintendent, who has taken on the job of coordinating the meals program. “The feedback is great — they’re very excited to receive the food. It’s really something to see. They’re very grateful.”
Jordan said a skeleton crew of lunchroom personnel (whom she calls “lunch heroes”) comes to Culver on Tuesdays to receive and store food shipments, and returns on Fridays to assemble the packages and distribute to family members who come to pick them up. Pickups are handled at one designated door to the school, and social distancing is enforced.
Each week, District 71 sends out a robocall alert, telling people when and where to pick up the food packages. Jordan said delivery is an option, but no families have chosen that yet.
Jordan said each bag has about 45 items, including 10 cartons of milk, five breakfasts (items such as muffins, cereal and yogurt), five lunches (including meals such as pasta bowls and sandwiches), and snacks (items such as granola, crackers, fresh fruit and fresh vegetables). All are individually packaged. “That’s very important, so that students know how much to have each day,” she said. “We also work really hard to try to meet nutritional guidelines and observe religious guidelines.”
The district secured a $6,500 grant from the Share Our Strength No Kid Hungry Campaign to help pay for the program. Supt. John Kosirog said the district also is partnering with the village of Niles to procure food.
The Niles Township Food Pantry also is making meals available to families in need, both at its main location at the Niles Township Government office, 5255 N. Lincoln Ave., Skokie, and a pop-up location at 8300 Lehigh Ave., Morton Grove. For details on hours and how to pick up food, visit the food pantry’s website. The food pantry also accepts tax-deductible monetary donations through its foundation.