CHAMPAIGN – During a typical school year, Laura Dees says families in need rely on food drives held at school buildings in the Champaign Unit 4 School District. Dees, director of food services for Unit 4, says that wasn’t a possibility this year because schools are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But Dees says the pandemic also created a sense of urgency among school staff that something should be done to help low-income families during a particularly challenging holiday season.
She says the district worked with social workers to identify families who would benefit from Thanksgiving meal boxes. Dees says the charity CU Better Together pitched in to help the district purchase turkeys for each of the 484 boxes they distributed this week.
“We’ve never done anything to this degree, but given the opportunity because of the pandemic we thought, ‘How could we help the community and our families?’ and chose to do Thanksgiving meal boxes,” Dees says.
Dees says each box contains a 14- to 16-pound turkey, instant mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, dinner rolls and a pumpkin pie.
We have a lot to be thankful for this year, including the Food Service Dept. at #Unit4. They have prepared more than 400…
Posted by Champaign Unit 4 Schools on Monday, November 23, 2020
She says it was a heavy lift for food service workers at the district, but it also gave them a sense of purpose.
“I think definitely the pandemic has shown the importance of what we do on a daily basis. And I think it’s also brought to light that food insecurity is real in this community as well as all over the country,” Dees says.
Additionally, she says the district also distributed about 2,500 school lunches and breakfasts to families ahead of the Thanksgiving break. The district has been operating under the federal summer meals program since the pandemic began, which allows schools to distribute meals to any child under the age of 18 regardless of whether they attend the district, Dees says.
She says they plan to continue delivering school meals and offering a drive-thru pickup service to families for the remainder of the school year.
Dees says the district also plans to holiday meal boxes in December. She says boxes are available to all families regardless of whether their children attend Unit 4 schools, but they have to sign up ahead of time. She says those interested in receiving a box should call: 217-351-3852 to sign up.
Urbana District 116 also donated some 300 turkeys and $15 Meijer gift cards to families in that district last week.
Thank you to everyone that offered a helping hand to provide 300 turkeys to USD116 families this afternoon! Thank you to…
Posted by Urbana School District #116 on Thursday, November 19, 2020
District 116 has distributed 5,000 school lunch and breakfast meals to families for the Thanksgiving break, according to school officials. The district says it will continue offering meal pickup to families on Tuesdays and Thursdays through the month of December between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. at all Urbana schools. For the last two weeks of December, families can pick up seven days worth of meals on Tuesdays only at Urbana Middle, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dr. Preston Williams, Jr. and Wiley Elementary Schools.
Lee Gaines is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter: @LeeVGaines