How a Chicago Lunch Program is Supporting Families During COVID19

My first time visiting Leyden High School was two summers ago, when I also visited Chicago for the first time. I was there to conduct an Equity and Inclusion workshop for staff and teachers, as part of their summer Professional Development. I was very inspired by the teachers and admin staff. Their dedication to make the school equitable for all kids was very easy to see.

Leyden Food Service Staff preparing lunches on April 6.

Jason Markey, Leyden’s Principal, recently invited me to speak virtually to students during this crisis. While him and I were catching up on the current situation, he briefly mentioned a lunch program that they’re running at the school.

This intrigued my interest, as most schools were closing their doors, and encouraging distance learning, hearing that their staff was working to support kids at this time was very heartfelt. I wanted to learn more about this initiative, and share it with you here.

“As soon as we started talking about the possibility of remote learning, food service supervisors said we need to feed kids before we talked about anything else. It was truly their leadership and continues to be”

Jason Markey, Leyden High School principal
Day 5 of preparing breakfast and lunch for kids.

Here is a short Q&A I conducted with Beth Kujawa, Food Services Supervisor at Leyden High School District 212:

Can you share a bit about the Leyden Lunch initiative? Who initiated this project, and how did it come about?

Leyden participates in the United States Department of Agriculture’s Lunch and Breakfast programs, with their guidance we are able to continue to provide meals not just for Leyden students but for any area children 18 years of age and younger.

Who are some of the folks working on the front lines of this crew? Could you share a bit about them?

The folks working the front lines are the Food Service Staff.  These incredible people have done a terrific job of adapting to our “new normal”.  They are all leaving their families at home and are coming in to do “What’s best for the kids”.  Those distributing the meals to the community are members of the Leyden Transportation Crew.  These are the faces that are serving with a smile.

I saw a tweet a week ago about the crew writing positive messages on bananas for students, and it was really touching. What was the idea behind this small gesture?

It takes a village, we had some written in English, Spanish and Polish!

What are some of the current challenges Leyden’s lunch crew is facing? 

We started out by using up our perishables as creatively as possible.  These were meals that were intended to be served and consumed in our cafeterias.  They now had to be prepped and distributed for home consumption.  We then moved to working with the groceries and items that we had in house.  We have menued some new items that I think will be “keepers” when we return to the “old normal”.

Practicing social distancing on
March 23, and prepare breakfast meals for kids
.

How long will you keep this initiative running?

As long as is necessary.

How has this initiative impacted students, teachers and the community?

Definitely, in a positive way, parents working from home have expressed their gratitude.  Having breakfast and lunch provided helps monetarily as well as in time.

If you’re interested in following their journey, check out the Leyden Lunches Twitter feed for updates and progress on this initiative.

Do you know of any other initiatives that are working hard to support people during this crisis? Feel free to reach out to me via email and share your story rusul@parkdaleinnovates.org

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