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Indiana school district surprised with donation to help feed students during pandemic

When schools were ordered to shut down in March, a food services staff in Indiana jumped into action to make sure kids wouldn’t go hungry.
/ Source: TODAY

Across the country, so many are still feeling the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, and with schools out for the summer, families who rely on school meals to feed their children could be left to fend for themselves.

Created by TODAY with our sponsor King's Hawaiian

When schools were ordered to shut down in March, the food services staff of the School City of Hammond in Indiana jumped into action to make sure the kids in their district wouldn’t go hungry. More than 80% of these students depend on the school’s free breakfast and lunch program, and with the added stress of lost wages or jobs, the staff knew it was important to keep serving their community.

“It wasn't an option not to serve during this time,” said Christine Clarahan, the school district’s director of food and nutrition services. “It wasn't a question of when. It was, like, ‘How are we gonna do this?’”

She and her team got creative, putting together a drive thru where families could pick up meals for their kids three times a week. Through rain or shine — and even snow — they’ve served more than 280,000 meals since the shut down. Clarahan even found a way to keep things fun, dressing up in a milk carton costume or as an avocado to hand out meals.

“If you can show a positive attitude, then the staff can have that,” she said. “I think it's so important not only for the kids but the adults coming through.”

Many parents, like Valsamo Neace, who has seven kids, are so grateful this service is available to them. She hasn’t missed a single meal distribution day.

“I didn't think I was going to have any kind of help,” Neace said. “I thought we were going to struggle finding food.”

But it hasn’t been easy. Clarahan said she’s only been able to keep providing this service through grants from organizations like No Kid Hungry, which has been providing emergency grants to school districts across the nation to help keep their food services programs operational during the crisis. The organization estimates 1 in 4 kids could go hungry this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite receiving some help, Clarahan said it would not be enough. “We don't have backup money right now,” she said. “We’ll figure out some way because it's not an option, not to feed the kids.”

To help continue her mission, our sponsor King’s Hawaiian donated $50,000 to her school district as part of its partnership with No Kid Hungry. Through the organization, King’s Hawaiian is helping to provide up to 1.5 million meals for kids in need during this crisis and beyond. No Kid Hungry says every dollar could provide up to 10 meals.

“We've been worried about money and how we can continue,” she said. “That makes it a lot easier.”

Clarahan said the extra funds would allow her school district to keep providing fresh produce for the kids and to buy more supplies and food safety equipment for the work she and her staff do to make sure those children are fed.