Around 60% of DeKalb students qualify as low-income, according to the Illinois Report Card. That means they also qualify for reduced or free meals.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, schools scrambled to keep providing food for students who rely on their district for much more than education.
Pansy Oderio is DeKalb’s food services director. Her team serves around 700 meals a day. They have 10 locations either at schools or mobile sites in the community.
She says it’s mostly a combination of fruit, cereal, sandwiches and milk, but they try to offer more variety when they can. The program is also largely run by dozens of volunteers.
“It's community members. It's teachers, our administration, they all can sign up and pick time slots to help distribute the meals,” she said.
Soon they’ll also be offering boxes with a week’s worth of meals at DeKalb High School. Oderio says that’ll double the number of meals they give out.
They’re also exploring ways to get more pre-cooked options for families to reheat.
Oderio says they recently sent out ice cream for the dozens of volunteers and got to give them out to families as well.
“What are you going to do but offer a kid an ice cream to make their day? And it was kind of cute because a couple of the moms were like, ‘Well, can we have an ice cream, too?’ Absolutely,” said Oderio.
Another DeKalb family shared that volunteers brought out cupcakes and sang “Happy Birthday” for a student picking up food.
The Barb Food Mart also donates extra supplies for families, like canned goods and cleaning products.