District 118 pilots food program with McDonald's

Deanna and Don Witzel, owner operators of the Vermilion County McDonald's, left, and Danville District 118 Superintendent Alicia Geddis announce a pilot program to provide breakfasts and lunches to District 118 students this week during the COVID-19 outbreak. The program will be expanded countywide and statewide and eventually nationally.

DANVILLE – A program piloted today in Danville to provide nutritious meals to Danville District 118 students during the COVID-19 restrictions has the potential to go national.

District 118 parents should have received in the mail earlier this week one postcard for each of their children. The postcards can be redeemed at one of the three Danville McDonald’s locations for one prepackaged breakfast and one prepackaged lunch per child on one of the next three days: today, Thursday or Friday.

“We mailed the cards on Friday to every student, so if you have three students, you will receive three cards,” District 118 Superintendent Alicia Geddis explained. “The goal is to feed all our children.”

The meals can be picked up on different days, with the postcard being punched to keep track of what meals already have been received.

The meals will be available only at the three Danville McDonald’s locations: 109 S. Gilbert St., 3195 N. Vermilion St., and 101 N. Bowman Ave. The breakfast meals will be distributed between 7 and 10:30 a.m. and lunch between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

When the announcement was made to close schools statewide last week, District 118 staff distributed five days’ worth of food plus school supplies on March 16 to about 500 District 118 families.

Recognizing that the continued COVID-19 restrictions would hurt families already challenged by food insecurity, Geddis sought a solution to provide meals to all 6,000 District 118 students in prekindergarten through 12th grade that would be sustainable for a longer duration.

“We were assessing how we could do that and how we could continue social distancing while keeping the District 118 staff safe,” she said.

Geddis decided to reach out to Don and Deanna Witzel, the owner operators of the Vermilion County McDonald’s locations, about forming a partnership to safely distribute food to area schoolchildren.

“The Witzels partner with us often, so it’s not unusual for us to reach out to them,” Geddis explained. “Other businesses are giving away food, and we appreciate it, but we are working with McDonald’s to develop a sustainable program.

“McDonald’s is already a school partner with District 118, and the Witzels have strategically located McDonald’s that are easily accessible to all our families in our Danville community,” she added.

“We’ve been working with the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and McDonald’s Corporation since last week to find a way to feed our children,” Geddis said. “We spoke to ISBE to get their approval.”

Deanna Witzel said she is proud to be able to help the community during a challenging time.  

“We are so proud to support the families of Danville School District 118 during this critical time. We’re all in this together, and we’re committed to serving our community with meaningful support and delicious food,” she said. “We love it that McDonald’s is the place where our communities come together.”

Once the pilot program was approved, District 118 officials and the Witzels had about 48 hours to figure out what the nutritious meals would contain and how those meals could be distributed quickly to 6,000 schoolchildren.

“The meals needed to follow the food group guidelines,” Witzel said. “We got creative, and we were able to meet those guidelines with the food we already have at McDonalds.”

The meals were prepackaged to speed up the distribution of them, she said.

Following this week’s pilot program in Danville, District 118 officials and the Witzels will work with ISBE and McDonald’s Corporation to evaluate the program model and make any needed adjustments before expanding the program on a larger scale.

“We are piloting this program first to figure out traffic flow and social distancing,” Geddis said. “We had to scale back, so we could assess.”  

“We want to expand this program across the state of Illinois and possibly across the U.S.,” Witzel said.  

Geddis said she already has been in contact with Vermilion County superintendents about expanding the program to the Witzel-owned McDonald’s locations in Georgetown, Hoopeston and Oakwood.

“It is our plan to make this available to all the county students,” Geddis said.     

The cost of the meals is covered by the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program and the Summer Food Service Program, which are federally funded programs that work with local schools.

“We want the children fed first, but also to keep families working,” Geddis said.

Depending on the success of the local pilot program, Geddis said she plans to share the details of the pilot with the U.S. Department of Education.

“We hope this will serve as a model nationwide to provide meals during this challenging time,” she said.  

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