MATTESON, ILLINOIS—January 13, 2021-- Nearly 900,000 meals—breakfasts, lunches, even Thanksgiving and Holiday dinners—were distributed by Rich Township High School District 227, Southland College Prep and School Districts 159, 162 and 163 to students and south suburban community members from mid-March, 2020 through the end of last year.
Rich Township elementary, junior high and senior high schools serve all or part of Chicago Heights, Country Club Hills, Matteson, Park Forest, Olympia Fields, Richton Park, University Park and Tinley Park.
“Providing students with fresh or pre-packaged food that meets all national school food guidelines, even under normal circumstances, can be challenging, but more so during the coronavirus pandemic. This has been a most successful community-wide effort,” said Dr. Johnnie Thomas, superintendent, Rich Township High School District 227, whose current enrollment is 2,678 students.
“Food service staffs in Rich Township’s elementary, junior high and senior high schools have been resourceful, creative and responsive in mounting multiple initiatives, such as organizing masked and socially distanced outdoor curbside distribution and delivery of fresh and/or pre- packaged food to students. And, because of the financial stress of the virus on many families’ budgets, we’ve extended delivery of food to anyone, with no questions asked,” Dr. Thomas added.
“This is a public health crisis, so as educators who understand there is an important link between good nutrition and academic success, we want to do all that we can whenever possible, “said Dr. Blondean Y. Davis, superintendent of District 162 with an enrollment of 2,500 and CEO of Southland College Prep with 575 students.
“We purchase fresh ingredients from a food purveyor and our staff creates hand-cut sandwiches, salads and other dishes. In addition to distributing packaged meals weekly to our students and families, we provided more than 700 special Thanksgiving dinners that included time and temperature instructions for heating those holiday meals. And, because we view schools as beacons of hope for the entire community, we deliver meals to homeless families,” Dr. Davis said.
Some school districts use busses and vans to deliver meals directly to families who may lack transportation, Dr. Thomas explained.
District 163’s six schools with an enrollment of 1,600 led by Dr. Caletha White, superintendent, distributed meals to its students and their families at curbside ’grab and go' events and arranged for its food vendor’s vans to deliver breakfasts and lunches to all families.
“The district food service and transportation manager, Mrs. Sandi Gordon, worked closely with our food vendor’s staff to organize an efficient and effective home distribution plan. The home delivery plan was driven by our desire to reach more families and to ensure that everyone in our community received nutrition during this unprecedented time,” Dr. White explained.
Dr. Mable Alfred, superintendent of District 159, whose five schools have an enrollment of 1, 850, utilized staff members to deliver “Drop and Go” meals to families who are without transportation.
“As we began to break for the Winter Holidays, we held a “Grab and Go Meal—With a Holiday Feel,” which included 28 meals, two meals a day for 14 days, plus grade-appropriate educational gifts,” Dr. Alfred explained.
Community sponsors for the holiday event included VisuCom Graphics, Tria Architecture, LLC., Hauser, Izzo, Petrarca, Gleason & Stillman, LLC and Dr. Otis Lane. Volunteers who assisted were Carolyn Palmer, board of education president; Sharee Morton, board secretary; district employees; members of the superintendent’s advisory committee and District 159 graduates Heaven Edgecombe and Shaniya Morton.
Betsy Williams, food service supervisor for Rich Township High School District 227, is an experienced restaurant manager who spent decades in the food industry before joining Rich Township 28 years ago.
“In normal times we have a commissary-style operation, making food from scratch using USDA commodities and having some items, such as poultry, beef and cheese, reprocessed. We serve balanced breakfasts and lunches, which include hot entrees, salads, fresh fruits and vegetables, tacos, soup and sandwiches.
“Beginning in March, 2020, we shifted to a ‘grab and go’ system offering breakfasts and lunches to anyone up to age 18 free. In August, the USDA extended meal benefits to the end of last year and now has extended them through the end of school in May, 2021,” Williams explained.
Rich Township High School District 227 also delivers meals to homeless families and people who are without transportation, she added.
“As we deliver hundreds of meals at events like today’s curbside drive-by, we’re well prepared to continue the District’s food service programs in the new year,” Dr. Thomas said.