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4J District Serves Millionth Free Meal During Pandemic, Expands Meal Service

Rachael McDonald

The Eugene 4J school district has served more than one million meals since they switched to online learning in mid-march. Now the district is expanding to also provide dinner to local youth.

Since March 16, the district has served 1,029,000 free breakfast and lunch meals. This includes serving meals to youth ages 18 and younger at 4J meal pickup locations, as well as childcare and educational programs such as the YMCA, Kid Zone, the Eugene Science Center, the Sheldon Community Center, and other home daycare and learning pod programs.

In Oct., the district started delivering meals to families who were unable to pick up meals at a local school. Now staff delivers over 1,300 meals to about 580 houses.

As the pandemic continues, 4J Director of Support Services Holly Langan said the need for meals has only increased.

“The first week of meals we served around 16,000 meals per week,” said Langan. “During the summer we served about 21,000 meals, and last week we served over 40,000 meals for the week.”

Despite being understaffed, 77 kitchen and office employees have worked to prepare meals so they can support students and their families. Langan said staff have worked about 164 of the 188 weekdays since March. She said this includes working more than 60 days when other staff were not expected to work, such as during breaks and the wildfires.

Langan said parents have called and expressed gratitude for the meal preparation and delivery service because the stress of grocery shopping and cooking meals is one less thing they have to worry about.

“Families are experiencing more than just financial stress,” said Langan. “They’re balancing working at home, they’re working on how to support their kids [during] home learning.”

After providing additional meals during the Thanksgiving break, the district will continue to provide meals over the winter break, and expand to provide dinners and meals on the weekends.

On Dec. 18—the last school day before winter break—food boxes will include an additional seven days of free meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Families will also be able to pick up another week of free meals for youth on Dec. 28 at the 4J Education Center, from 11 a.m.–5:30 p.m.

When school resumes on Jan. 5, the district will resume meal delivery services as well as in-person pickup at 10, 4J schools from 10:45 a.m.–2 p.m. The district will continue to provide dinner meals each day, and extra meals for the weekend will be provided on Fridays.

The online request form for meal delivery is in English and Spanish. Families who don’t have internet access can call 541-790-7654 and leave a message. According to the district website, new addresses will be added to delivery routes within seven to 10 school days.

All youth 18 and younger will have access to free meals through the end of the school year in June.

The district’s community eligibility program—which provides free meals to students during the normal school year—was also expanded to more than half of the district. Starting in the fall, students of at least 13 elementary schools and four middle schools will receive free meals.

Elizabeth Gabriel is a former KLCC Public Radio Foundation Journalism Fellow. She is an education reporter at WFYI in Indianapolis.
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