Baldwin City children’s reading, meals programs to continue through summer

photo by: Submitted photo

Volunteers wait at the Baldwin City Public Library to provide packaged meals to the community's children through a program the Baldwin City school district will offer through the summer.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have eliminated many traditional youthful summer options, but the Baldwin school district and local library are ensuring community youngsters are nourished in body and mind.

Kelley Bethell-Smith, president of the Baldwin City school district board of education, said the district will continue to provide free meals this summer for children ages 1 through 18. The meals are available through a five-year U.S. Department of Agriculture grant the district was awarded in 2019. Originally, the grant was to provide meals to children during summer months only, but the district successfully secured a waiver that has allowed it to provide meals since the district suspended in-school classes in mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since program began on March 15, it has provided breakfast and lunch for nearly 400 children in the Baldwin City school district, Bethell-Smith said.

“It may have dropped off a bit as things started to open up, but we’ve been pretty consistent in the high 300s,” she said.

The grab-and-go meals are delivered Monday and Thursday for pick up at the Baldwin City Public Library, 800 Seventh St., Bethell-Smith said. To feed youngsters the other days of the week, each grab-and-go package consists of four breakfasts and three lunches.

“No appointments or applicants are needed,” she said. “You just show up”

The current twice-weekly model is much different than last year’s summer meal program, which was designed to get children engaged in the community and activities by moving the meal sites every weekday to different locations, such as district schools, Baker University, the city library, the Lumberyard Arts Center, the Baldwin Academy of Dance and Voice and community churches, Bethell-Smith said.

“Last year, the objective was to encourage group activities and socialization,” she said. “This year, it’s just the opposite. We’ve made it more efficient by increasing the amount of meals kids get at one time.”

Bethell-Smith credits district food service director Nichole Burnett with modifying the program to its current grab-and-go model, which relies on volunteers to pick up the meals from the district’s four schools for delivery to the library. The program now uses the kitchens in each of those schools to allow proper social distancing for the six to eight school employees preparing the meals, she said.

Wendy Conover, Baldwin City Public Library executive director, said serving as the site for the grab-and-go meals fits well with the library’s plans for its annual summer reading program.

Currently, the library has a drop off location near the front door for returns and is offering curbside delivery of books and other materials patrons request via the library’s website, However, Conover said the library’s annual summer reading program would be offered virtually. The summer reading program will be accessed though the app Reader Zone, which will be available June 1 for patrons to download off the library’s website, Conover said.

“It will connect with our library and make all our reading materials, activities and challenges,” she said. “We think it will help keep kids and parents occupied through the summer.”

Although nothing as been approved yet, she and the library board are discussion when and how the library can start allowing patrons to enter the building, Conover said. When the library opens, numbers will be limited to maintain social distancing. The early goal will be to make the much in demand Wi-Fi and computers available to patrons.

“We’re erring on the side of safety and caution,” she said. “We’re taking things slow and being very thoughtful about how we’re going to do things.


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