Like many school districts in Illinois, Waukegan District 60 was concerned that its students could suffer from food insecurity because of the pandemic. Packaged meal kits are great, but not if kids can’t get to them. With transportation issues and parents’ work schedules, the district near the northern Illinois border could have struggled getting food into the bellies of kids. Even more worrying, over 500 families in the district face housing insecurity, presenting bigger barriers to meal access.
2020 has been a year like no other. The pandemic has had a profound impact on every aspect of our lives, including child hunger. This year, as many as 1 in 4 kids could go hungry, a number that has greatly increased since the onset of the coronavirus.
There’s no doubt that 2020 has been a year like no other, but the hard work of schools and community organizations to feed kids is one thing we can always count on. It is always encouraging to hear about the innovation and enthusiasm of food service professionals in the state of Illinois. We’d like to highlight their stories:
In Carbondale, Illinois, it’s not just schools providing meals for kids during the pandemic.
Over the summer, The Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Illinois used their staff, budget, and a little help from No Kid Hungry to serve suppers to all interested kids in their community. This new evening meal program was established in addition to their pre-existing partnership with local school districts to serve lunches to children in need. According to Tina Carpenter, CEO of The Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Illinois, early summer saw a staff stretched too thin and a budget burdened with PPE costs. The support from No Kid Hungry helped turn this around and provided the funding necessary to make suppers in Carpenter’s centers possible.
In the fairly large city of Kankakee, fifty miles south of downtown Chicago, having multiple feeding sites isn’t always enough to make sure kids have access to the food they need during the pandemic. Some sites are not easy to get to by walking or riding a bike, but those kids still need meals, whether their school is fully remote or hybrid. Kankakee School District saw a problem, and found the resources from No Kid Hungry, Headstart, and district funds to fix it.
Beardstown Community School District has faced some unique challenges because of COVID-19. One might think that a rural district in Central Illinois with 1,600 kids is fairly routine. However, the families in this district use over 22 languages! Superintendent Ron Gilbert says that with such a diverse community, communication is tricky, and always has been. But that challenge hasn’t stopped the district from providing food to its students during the pandemic.
Noble Network of Charter Schools found out on a Friday that school would be closed the next Monday for the foreseeable future. Monica Bromber-Karis, Director of Dining Services, spent the whole weekend brainstorming, planning, and implementing food distribution strategies for Noble Schools. Sure enough, meal kits were ready to go the very first Monday school was closed.
With schools out for the year and summer beginning, parents may feel challenged to keep their children engaged. Due to non-congregate feeding for summer meals sites and the uncertainty regarding the reopening of parks, children may spend more time at home.
Nubia Sanchez, Compliance Officer at Acero Charter Schools remembers waiting a couple of weeks after implementing Breakfast After the Bell in SY17-18 to hear complaints or issues with Grab ‘N’ Go to the Classroom but upon hearing hardly none thought, “this is too good to be true.”
Golder College Prep in the West Town neighborhood of Chicago went from serving 13% of their students breakfast daily with the traditional before school cafeteria model to serving nearly 67% of their students daily after implementing Breakfast in the Classroom.
“We push our students to eat healthy in a fun way so it doesn’t feel like they are pressured,” said Principal Anderson.
Perspectives Charter Schools increased breakfast participation from 55% to 85% after implementing a Grab ‘N’ Go to the Classroom with the help of teachers, principles and counselors nudging students to grab breakfast in the mornings.
While keeping its traditional cafeteria breakfast program, Elmwood Park implemented a Second Chance Breakfast program in the middle and high school in the 2017-18 school year.
“We have been doing Breakfast After the Bell since before it was hip,” chuckled Kasia Sanchez, Director of the President’s Office at Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy.