ELKHART — Elkhart County students have more options than their school district to receive a meal while school is out to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Restaurants, food pantries and banks are also lending a helping hand by offering free meals for all children 18 or younger on weekdays.
Gov. Eric Holcomb on Thursday mandated all Indiana K-12 schools to remain closed until May 1. Non-public schools are also ordered closed.
In Elkhart, Bacon Hill Kitchen & Pub was busy passing out nachos and cheese with ground beef to hundreds of students on early Thursday afternoon, co-owner Amber Hart said.
“We prepped hundreds of lunch bags before we opened at 11 a.m. and we were already out by noon and had to prep more food,” Hart said.
But that hasn’t been uncommon this week. In fact, Hart said the restaurant has had to change the menu multiple times during service this week because they’ve run out of food.
“When that happens, we just go to the walking corner to figure out what else we can serve the kids,” Hart said. “But we do our best to make it work and provide each kid with a hot and tasty meal; it’s very important to us that all kids are fed and none go hungry.”
Hart said the amount of community support Bacon Hill has gotten despite dine-in services being closed has “been incredible.”
“It’s allowed us to keep up our momentum and keep our standards of service,” she said. “We’ve worked closely with schools on what the kids should be eating and have made lunches based on that.”
Bacon Hill, 4000 E. Bristol St., is offering hot meals Tuesdays through Fridays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Also in Elkhart, That Guy’s Gourmet Ribs plans on hosting a “Feed the Need,” event weekdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the Wellfield Botanic Gardens, according to owner Cedric Rollins.
Rollins said he is currently working with a few different agencies to ensure quality meals be provided to students until the outbreak subsides.
“I have five kids of my own, four of which are still school-aged and I know if I was in a less fortunate situation how much I’d appreciate a place where my kids could go receive a meal,” Rollins said of his motivation to help feed students. “It’s important and I try to do things for the school systems every year to give back.”
“I know many of the school districts are preparing cold lunches, so I wanted to help by providing a hot meal.”
Cultivate Culinary, a food-rescue program, will continue its program by sending home frozen meals using rescued food with schoolchildren in Elkhart, St. Joseph and Marshall counties.
In Elkhart County, the nonprofit agency delivers backpacks of frozen meals to students at Elkhart and Wa-Nee school corporations, according to Jim Conklin, co-founder and president of the organization.
The agency serves 600 kids six meals a week, “and serving students is even more needed during a crisis like this,” he said.
In Elkhart, the agency delivers the meals to Church Community Services, which then delivers them to Elkhart schools, Conklin said. And for Wa-Nee, the agency works with Family Christian Development Center.
“The schools determine which kids are in need and we commit to providing them meals in an insulated backpack,” he said. “Each kid is assigned a number and those backpacks are filled and handed to students every Friday.”
Conklin said the agency has been getting quite a few donations from restaurants, universities and other food services that have shut down due to the coronavirus crisis and is always in need of more donations.