BY CORIE LYNN
On Tuesday morning, Gov. Laura Kelly announced that Kansas K-12 would close for the remainder of the school year in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19. This news presents a problem for children relying on school lunches.
Hays USD 489 staff, aware that many families and students are in need of the lunch service, jumped to action. Through Friday, they would provide free boxed lunches and breakfasts for any child in Hays.
Jessica Younker, director of nutrition services for USD 489, explained that parents with their children drive to Lincoln Elementary, pull up in front of the school and tell staff how many children they have in the car.
“[T]hey drive forward a little further and another staff member gives the meals, a styrofoam box of hot food and a brown bag of cold food and milk. Inside the school, we have an assembly line of school staff, stuffing the bags and boxes throughout serving time,” Younker said.
Each meal is packed to provide lunch for that day as well as breakfast the following morning, including a hot entree, fresh fruit and vegetables, breakfast and two milks.
Younker explained that school closures can put a burden on families, especially those reliant on school meals. This grab-and-go program was thus funded. She also stated the program would continue after Spring Break and will expand to have meal locations at three schools. Hays USD 489’s Spring Break is scheduled for next week.
“[The boxed lunch program] is important because so many families in Hays are being impacted by this national crisis financially. We feel it is our jobs, as school nutrition professionals, to provide them some relief and continue to feed their children two meals a day for free,” Younker said.
For this reason, the program is also open to all children ages 1 to 18, regardless of whether they are a part of USD 489 or not, or if they already receive free or reduced meals. Younker explained the only requirement for receiving a lunch is that the children must be in the vehicle at the time of pick-up.
Micah Sanderson, who has a seventh-grader at Hays Middle School and a third-grader at O’Loughlin Elementary School, agreed the boxed lunches are important for those in need in the Hays community. He explained that, after taking his own children to pick up lunches, he realized that the grab-and-go has another function.
While in line for lunch, kids see people they know, whether it is a staff member or fellow student, and enjoy feeling connected to the school.
“[The program] provides small connections to the school and district,” Sanderson said.
Overall, he said he is impressed with how the schools have responded to the closures.
“I’m grateful and thankful that they’re being intentional with the students,” Sanderson said.