District 212 food service staff continues to serve the community
Many heroes have emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic, including first responders, health care professionals, teachers and other essential workers. Among those essential workers are the Leyden lunch ladies, who before the pandemic, prepared approximately 600 breakfasts and 2,000 lunches per day for District 212 students.
But according to Beth Kujawa, Leyden's food services supervisor, all that changed on March 16 when schools closed and E-learning went into effect. Although traditional school was suspended, Leyden's lunch and breakfast program remained in place. Leyden's food service staff went from preparing about 2,600 meals per day to assembling, at its peak, as many as 4,000 meals a day. Since March staff members have prepared a total of more than 169,000 meals, Kujawa reports.
Leyden's lunch and breakfast program relies on the district's food staff to prepare meals and volunteers, many of them Leyden staff members, to deliver food to points throughout the community where residents pickup the meals that are available weekdays.
Kujawa says the bags prepared for distribution contain lunch for that day, and breakfast for the next morning. A typical breakfast includes milk, juice and an entree such as pancakes, yogurt or an egg sandwich. Lunch consists of protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and milk.
"Lunch might be mac and cheese with cornbread, a rib sandwich, deli sandwich, fresh fruit and celery with fruit. Our meal programs are regulated by the US Department of Agriculture, so we follow the same requirements that are observed during the school year," Kujawa says.
"I am truly blessed and grateful for the meals provided" says Franklin Park resident Glori Gonzalez. With a daughter at East Leyden High School, and a son at Pietrini Elementary School, Gonzalez says the lunch program "is a huge help. Those are a lot of meals to provide. It's hard to do that when your hours at work are cut short. It's a financial struggle, but with this help, the groceries last longer at home," she adds.
The first few weeks of preparing and distributing meals were stressful, Kujawa notes. But soon the 35 member staff became comfortable with the system and began adding an extra snack and cheerful notes to the bags. The idea, Kujawa says, is to let the children know the staff is thinking about them.
"Lunch ladies are the unsung heroes of the school," says Beth Kujawa, District 212's food service supervisor. "I am immensely proud of the staff at both campuses, they have come to work to "do what's best for the kids" by putting their heart and soul into all the meals we have provided."