Local restaurants to launch new student meal service for the remainder of April

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World File Photo

Liberty Memorial Central Middle School is pictured in September 2018.

Story last updated at 9:38 a.m. Wednesday

Local restaurants will be stepping in to make sure that students in need will still have access to free lunch throughout April, after the Lawrence school district recently suspended its meal service for children.

The school district announced Tuesday that local restaurants will provide free meals to all children under the age of 18 at several school sites beginning Wednesday.

“The Lawrence Restaurant Association, other local businesses, The Chamber, the Lawrence Schools Foundation, and community volunteers will join our city and county governments in making this effort possible,” school district spokeswoman Julie Boyle said in an email to families.

Families may access the free restaurant meals for children through curbside pickup from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday at four school sites: Hillcrest Elementary, 1045 Hilltop Drive; Schwegler Elementary, 2201 Ousdahl Road.; Billy Mills Middle School, 2734 Louisiana St.; and Liberty Memorial Central Middle School, 1400 Massachusetts St. The free meal service is expected to continue weekdays through Friday, May 1. The district previously said it would continue to evaluate its own plans for May.

Restaurants that are providing food include 23rd Street Brewery, Big Mill, Bigg’s BBQ, Cheesy Street, Fields & Ivy Brewery, Global Cafe, J.Wilson’s, Johnny’s Tavern West, Ramen Bowls and Six Mile Chop House, the school district said. Those restaurants will follow the USDA guidelines to meet the nutritional standards for the National School Breakfast and Lunch Programs, which allows the businesses to be eligible for federal reimbursement, according to a news release from the district. The program does not provide a full reimbursement for the meals, but the City of Lawrence and Douglas County governments have pledged support, the district said.

For evening meals, the school district suggests that families utilize the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence’s curbside meal pickup. According to the club’s website, it is providing packaged meals and pantry items to any family from 6 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Center for Great Futures, 2910 Haskell Ave.

Last week, the school district suspended its original meals program in an effort “to support the health and safety of our employees and the community during the anticipated peak time for COVID-19,” Boyle wrote in her email Tuesday.

In a follow-up to questions by the Journal-World, Boyle said no school staff would be involved and that the United Way of Douglas County would be seeking community volunteers to distribute the meals. Interested volunteers can sign up through a link posted at the organization’s website, unitedwaydgco.org.

The district began providing free grab-and-go breakfast and lunch after health orders related to the coronavirus pandemic closed school buildings in the middle of March. The district previously said it was distributing an average of 1,000 meals a day through the program. At the end of March, it altered elements of the program in an effort to reduce risk to staff, volunteers and families, though it had planned to continue the program until May 20.

About 35% of the 12,000 students in the Lawrence school district qualified for free or reduced-price lunch from schools during the 2018-19 academic year, according to the latest data from the Kansas State Department of Education. Of those 4,183 students, 3,417 were approved for free lunches, according to state statistics.

Local food pantries, such as Just Food, and other local organizations, including the Salvation Army and the Lawrence Interdenominational Nutrition Kitchen, also continue to offer free meals to people in need.

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