Stories of Innovation in a COVID-19 World

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:


2020 has shown us the importance of working together with established and new partners. So many families rely on schools as a safe space for their kids during the day, and with so many schools closed, other organizations rushed in to fill the gap.

  • The Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Illinois provided a space for remote learning and made sure that the kids were fed three meals a day with support from the school district and club funds.
  • United Way of Knox County worked with Galesburg School District, Knox County Housing Authority, local churches, and others to make sure there were meal distribution sites around the county to increase accessibility for the community.


School nutrition professionals are incredible people who adapt to ever-changing circumstances. COVID-19 brought to light the importance of listening to what the community needs.

  • Waukegan School District realized that daytime meal distribution wasn’t working for all families, so they are working to add evening hours for meal pickup. This will allow for greater flexibility for busy and working parents.
  • W Harvey Dixmoor School District is trying out distributing more bulk food items like gallons of milk and bags of apples which families seem to enjoy. In hearing positive feedback, they are continuing to serve some larger items for ease to families.


There’s no doubt about it: getting food delivered is easier than takeout. That applies to school meals as well. With students busy with remote learning and working parents juggling life in a pandemic, everything is a bit easier if schools bring meals directly to the home.

  • Decatur School District made the bold choice to provide delivery to all their students. All families were automatically enrolled in the new program, with an option to opt out if preferred. Though this was a financial undertaking, the school leaders value nutrition enough to take that risk, and their participation has been great!
  • Kankakee School District isn’t going door to door, but they are going into neighborhoods with their new food truck. In an area that isn’t easily walkable or bikeable, it was important to school leaders to bring the meals closer to families that need them in a fun and engaging way.


School nutrition professionals across the state have mastered the skill of recognizing room for improvement. With 9 months of COVID behind us, changing things up can get kids more excited and get participation up!

  • Noble Network of Charter Schools realized that kids were getting tired of some menu items, so decision-makers decided to spice things up with enhanced meal options. From pizza kits that kids can make from home to roast beef sandwiches that are a crowd favorite, adding more exciting meal items to the repertoire once in a while is sure to get students participating.


With the hope that COVID-19 will eventually be under control across the nation, some school districts have the future in mind. Districts across the state are considering which equipment and policies they tried out in response to the pandemic might be helpful to keep around.

  • Benton School District tried out Breakfast After the Bell, serving breakfast to kids in the classroom to ensure social distancing for in-person learning. Though once hesitant, teachers and staff have since seen the benefits of breakfast in the classroom for their younger students and will implement the program in the lower grades post-COVID. Because they already have this equipment, the transition should be seamless!
  • With plans to start CEP in schools this year, Elgin U-46 is finding use of their grab-and-go meal equipment to prepare for a post-COVID Breakfast After the Bell program. Pairing CEP and Breakfast After the Bell together will ensure that the district goes far to increase participation and make the most out of their CEP status.

School meal programs are at the center of fighting child hunger. With circumstances exacerbated by the onset of the pandemic, nutrition professionals have risen to the challenge time and time again to keep our children fed. Through innovative use of resources and creativity when engaging with families, 2020 has proven to be a year of resilience and stewardship. This list only skims the surface of all the ways meal service providers, teachers, parents, and more were there to fight hunger in our communities this year.