A pilot program launched by Danville school district 118 is sending students to the drive-through window to get meals, while classes are suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Families in District 118 received cards for each of their school-age children last week, qualifying each child for two free meals this week, on Wednesday through Friday during breakfast or lunch hours, at any of Danville’s three McDonald’s restaurants: 109 S. Gilbert St., 3195 N. Vermilion St., and 101 N. Bowman Ave.
The prepackaged meals served by the program are designed to meet school nutrition guidelines, with the Danville school district contributing milk and apples, while the McDonald’s outlets supply the rest. The meals are partially funded by federal programs for school meals.
District superintendent Alica Geddis says if this week’s pilot program works in Danville, it might be tried in other school districts to help schoolchildren facing food insecurity.
“It is my hope that this model can be replicated, and other school districts can use it,” said Geddis. “And together we can feed all of our children.”
The three Danville McDonald’s taking part in the meal program are among those owned and operated in Vermilion County by franchisees Don and Deanna Witzel. Deanna Witzel says officials from the McDonald’s Corporation are in the process of reviewing the school meal effort
“In fact we have a representative from the corporation here today,” said Witzel on Wednesday, speaking from her McDonald’s restaurant on North Vermilion Street, near Danville’s Village Mall, “to kind of help out and kind of see what we’re doing, and maybe make give us some suggestions on how we can make it better.”
Witzel says participation in the school meal pilot program was lower than she expected on Wednesday morning, during the program’s first few hours. But she said the Wednesday morning fog might have kept some people away, and that participation might pick up later during the program’s three-day duration. Witzel said approximately 6,000 voucher cards were sent out to District 118 schoolchildren.
“The nice thing about this program too is it helps us to give hours to our employees,” said Witzel, “and that’s something that is important to us to be able to take care of our employees as well.”
Witzel says that so far, their McDonald’s restaurants in Danville and neighboring towns in Vermilion County have been able to keep operating during the coronavirus outbreak without laying off any workers.
Superintendent Geddis says the pilot program with the Witzel McDonald restaurants are a follow-up to efforts last week to keep District 118 schoolchildren supplied with nutritious food during the coronavirus school closure. Along with their take-home learning materials, each child received prepackaged meals to see them through the first week of the coronavirus school closure. Geddis says reaction from parents to those meals was very positive.
Geddis says District 118 will confer with officials from Chicago-based McDonald’s and the Illinois State Board of Education to decide if this week’s pilot program is effective in getting meals to children while classes are suspended due to the state’s stay-at-home order.