Trucking Along, Through the Pandemic

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.

The newly purchased Kankakee School District food truck is a refurbished bakery delivery truck, now equipped with a sink, cooler, freezer, pizza oven, and salad/sandwich cooler! This truck will make its way into food deserts, bringing hot meals to kids that don’t have access to transportation to get to meal distribution sites. Dawn Botensten, Food Service Director, has quite a few ideas for the food truck, beyond just going into neighborhoods. The district can use it to shuttle food between its 11 schools, host a farmer’s market, and maybe even get the culinary students involved! Dawn is still brainstorming how everything will work, but being able to go into underserved communities is her priority for now.

Not only is Kankakee School District getting the food out; the food is really good! Dawn said she wanted to make sure the kids were still getting nutrient dense food. Her team is serving hot meals every day, both for students in school in person and those picking up meals to go. She also has incorporated naturally grown produce from local farms into her menus. Kids love the watermelon, cantaloupe, sweet corn, and carrots that were grown right in their own community!

Dawn really cares about her students. Pre-COVID, she would go into classrooms and read books about food. She encourages kids to try new foods. She is beloved by her students, young and old, from a little girl running out of her line to hug her in the hallway to a high school student asking if she was ok while he was working in the drive thru she was visiting. Hopefully she will be able to continue to get hugs from students soon, post-COVID, but appreciation of her doesn’t require us to be within six feet. What a great leader and innovator for her district and community. Thanks Dawn and the rest of the Kankakee School District team!