Area schools reach out with free lunches

Rockridge, Sherrard, Mercer County, United districts among those making food available

Cala Smoldt Correspondent
Matherville Intermediate Principal Jeff Shillinger is at the school every day doing whatever he can to make sure families have school needs met - and food available on Monday, Wednesday and Friday's. Cala Smoldt/Correspondent

Illinois schools are encouraged to provide food for kids during the Covid-19 shut-down. According to the Illinois State Board of Education website schools participating in the National School Lunch or Breakfast Program, and institutions particpating in the Child and Adult Care Food Program are encouraged to provide meals to their students. The meals are reimbursable.

The isbe.net website also says, "The Illinois State Board of Education has received a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to waive the congregate feeding requirement, which will provide flexibility to SFAs and COs to distribute meals in affected communities."

Matherville Intermediate head cook Trisha Dewitt, and Mary Hessman, administrative assistant, prepared meals for almost 50 children on Friday, March 20.

Families stop in from 11 a.m.-noon for lunches and breakfasts available at the school for their children on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays during the mandated school shut down.

Food pantry items were also available for pickup, including fresh produce and bread products.

The number of kids grows by the day, according to Dewitt. She said as soon as she heard the news her first thought was how kids will have access to food.

"We may not know the kids who only eat at school."

For lunch they served ham and cheese sandwiches, a bag fresh broccoli, applesauce, chips and a graham cracker snack.

Hessman stepped in to help bag meals for kids. "We're all in this together. I just hope and pray it doesn't get any worse."

She said she's glad to come help at the school and keep a routine. "It helps to keep some normalcy — a little bit of structure helps keep the worries down," said Dewitt.

Sherrard School District Meals will be available for pick-up from 11 a.m. to noon at Winola Elementary, Matherville Intermediate, Sherrard Elementary and the Coyne Center Fire Department on Monday, Wednesday and Friday's during shut down. Also, the district’s Nourish to Flourish backpack program will be sending home food items with students who normally participate. Call the Sherrard unit office at 309-593-4075 to schedule food pickup or with questions/concerns.

Sherrard's Tiger Express also delivers items from the Tiger Closet to families in need. Superintendent Alan Boucher had the idea,

"During the e-learning planning stage, we knew deliveries would have to be made to students who were unable to travel to schools to pick-up things. We also knew there would be times when students needed to send things to school, so we decided to use staff volunteers to make deliveries. I notified the staff of the need and they began to volunteer immediately.  

Teacher Kim McCreight coordinates deliveries using district vehicles. She can be reached at mccreightk@sherrard.us or fill out the form on the district website www.sherrard.us/ - go to Parents/Students, School Closure & E-Learning.

Sherrard implemented E-Learning immedaitely following the closure. Teachers use Google Classroom and provide resources to students each day - including online meetings, assignments and coninuing eduation. Materials are provided to students without internet access.

So far the process has been successful, Nicole Layer, parent of a Sherrard 7th grader, said, “Their communication, notes, expectations, support, and above all, the entire staff and administration are unparallelled. Alyssa was up, dressed, online, and ready to go by 8:30 a.m. and I had an email with parent info from a teacher."

"We’re not in an ideal situation, but Sherrard is poised to make the best out of it for their kids," she said.

Rockridge School District is currently serving 30 families in need of breakfast and lunch for children, according to an announcement on their school website, www.rr300.org/. Their plan is to deliver the meals daily. Rockridge families can email foodservice@rr300.org. Delivery began on Monday, March 23.

In a memo, Superintendent Perry Miller said, "We will be delivering these meals using our transportation department to each family’s home at this time ... Please note that depending on the number of meals requested and provided, we may need to restructure our delivery method."

He said the district is working with the Rockridge Teachers Association to provide activities to chidlren during the closure.

"The enrichment activities will provide an avenue for continuous student learning during the closure for students in grades PreK-12. We envision that these enrichment activities for grades PreK-8 will be grade-level specific and high school will be subject-level specific. You will receive these enrichment opportunities for your children on Tuesday, March 24, 2020 via email."

Mercer County School District has five locations for meal pickup. Seaton Fire Station, Keithsburg City Hall, Mercer County Intermediate School, New Boston Elementary School, and Mercer County Junior High School. They distribute on Monday, Wednesday, Friday — each student receives two breakfasts and two lunches each day, milk, and juice. Mercer County families can email bakera@mercerschools.org, or call 309-582-2238 to be added to the list.

Superintendent Scott Petrie said, "We are continuing to provide remote educational supports, activities, and opportunities for students during the school closure." The district provided take-home packets, and issued chrome books to over 400 2nd-6th graders for home use, expanded use of online instruction in grades 7-12.

"However, ISBE has also instructed districts that student work completed during the mandated statewide school closure March 17-30, must not count toward student grades or otherwise negatively impact a student’s academic standing, as these are Act of God Days and not Instructional Days," he said.

United Superintendent Jeff Whitsitt released a statement March 14, "The United School District will be offering breakfast and lunch opportunities to our students during the Statewide Closure. These meals will be at normal rates for those paid students and free to those that qualify."

Meals will distributed on Mondays and Thursdays for three days at a time, including three breakfasts, three lunches, and six milk cartons — and can be picked up at the high school, United North, and United West Elementary, "drive through style at the front doors", from 2 to 4 p.m.  Parents of students on multiple campuses can pick all meals up at one campus.

An order form is available on the website, www.u304.org or call 309.734.9413 during typical office hours to place your order.

“We have great people. Education is a field full of wonderful people who go above and beyond to make sur eour students are taken of," said  United High School Principal Amy Schmitz.

"We want people to know, especially at the highschool, business hours are 8 a.m. - 3 p.m." If people have questions they can call the district office (309-734-9413) or the high school.

She said the district has an E-Learning platform for students to go to their grade level, and do some activities to, "Keep their skills fresh, most of them are fun activities, we’re hoping students will continue to engage in these activities that we put out and continue to do that to exercise their brains."

Some of that is actual physical exercise, she said. She said they didn't send packets home with kids, but have asked parents to let the school know which kids do not have internet access and packets will be provided at meal pickup.