After supporting the community by providing thousands of grab-and-go breakfast and lunch meals throughout the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, USD 253 food service staff will be continuing their mission of feeding area children throughout the summer.

“Although the governor closed schools, the bottom line was that we still wanted to feed kids,” said Emporia Public Schools Food Service Director Denise Kater. “The fact that we’ve had summer meal programs over the last couple years definitely helped because we were able to basically model that on a much larger scale. We had really good community partners with EVCO and Fanestil’s … and our bakery bakes our own bread. We had tons of support and other staff volunteer to pass out meals, too ... It was really great seeing everybody banding together to help anyway they could.”

Running from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday - Friday and scheduled to kick off Wednesday at Village, William Allen White, and Walnut elementary schools, Kater hopes to garner the same support for the summer edition of the program despite a decrease in active sites. She said pickup meals could last as late as early August depending on supplies and pending other COVID-19 developments.

“All of our lunch staff actually have their contracts end on the last day of school,” Kater said. “That’s how it is every year, and we always put out a note in the spring asking for individuals that may be interested in working during the summer. We usually have a multitude of people, but we’re an older population as far as staff is concerned.”

Kater said the program usually operates at more sites over the summer, but had less staff willing to take on the extra hours due to the pandemic.

“A lot of our older ladies decided they did not want to work this summer, which is completely understandable,” she said. “They’re under no obligation to do so. So, that’s why we currently have only enough people for the three sites.”

Kater did not dismiss the chance of more sites popping up throughout the next few months should more staff feel comfortable in working, but for now, said her focus would be on providing as smooth and convenient an operation as possible for local families.

“The reason we’re going to do the giveaways Monday through Friday is to be able to start serving hot meals for a little more variety,” Kater said. “Parents should hang on to the little car tag that we already gave them, so we can know how many kiddos they have. We’re definitely going to still honor those … These meals are free for everybody 18 and under, and we won’t card you. Overall, not a lot has changed from the way we did things last year except that it will be grab-and-go all summer. There won’t be eating on site.”

Those with additional questions or comments are welcome to reach out to Kater through email at denise.kater@usd253.net. USD 253 can also be reached by phone at 341-2200.

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