MAHOMET — The halls of Middletown Prairie Elementary School are eerily quiet, and educators have a simple message for students mandated to stay at home to help stop the spread of COVID-19:
“We miss you all!” Susan Weaver, lead kitchen food service worker, said Tuesday as she and assistant Wendi Doehring packed up sack breakfasts and lunches for children to be picked up by their parents or guardians.
Others at MPE heartily echoed that sentiment.
“It feels lonely. We miss the kids,” Dustin Day, assistant principal at MPE, said Tuesday from his quiet office at the school. “It’s kind of a surreal feeling to walk down the hallways. But we miss them and we’re anxious to get them back.”
MPE Principal Ryan Martin said, “That is the hardest part is, yes, I absolutely miss the kids. Just something about seeing their faces at 8:05 every morning when that bell rings, and coming off the bus, coming through the doors from parent drop-off, is very energizing for me.
“I took a ‘social distancing lap’ around my neighborhood and it was extremely hard to wave to kids and not have them come up and hug me or high-five. It’s hard but we want to do what’s safe and best for kids.
“But it’s a hard time to be leading a building where you’re in it for kids and you don’t get to see them,” Martin added.
Weaver and Doehring have been busy with the sack lunch effort daily this week.
“The food distribution is going well. Mrs. Susan in the kitchen is killin’ it — she’s doing wonderful,” said Day. “It’s been fantastic to see, if the kids drive by in cars, it’s fantastic to wave to them.”
Mahomet-Seymour school district is providing free breakfast and lunch to any child under age 18, or in the ATLAS program, while classes are out due to efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Youth do not have to attend Mahomet-Seymour schools to sign up.
Food pickup is a drive-up service at Lincoln Trail Elementary School and MPE from 10 a.m. to noon, plus distribution via school buses.
The Google form link for parents to sign up their kids is: https://forms.gle/umrJjDGRqmQ eHQfb9
School leaders would like to see more children signed up for the free meals.
MPE offered up 29 sack lunch meals via pickup on Monday, Day said, with another half a dozen signing up for pickup that day as well.
At Lincoln Trail Elementary, Principal Megan Hunter said there have been about 15 pickups each day for meals.
“I would reiterate what (my MPE colleagues) said about encouraging people to sign up,” Hunter said Tuesday. “I feel there might be students we are missing for meals and that is keeping me up at night. Heartbreaking.
“Our drive through system works great so I don’t think that would keep anyone away,” she added. “If people have difficulty accessing anything or need anything at all, I would encourage them to email the building principal and someone will be in contact to help.”
Mahomet-Seymour Superintendent Lindsay Hall said for Monday and Tuesday combined, MPE distributed a total of 154 meals, while Lincoln Trail distributed 243 those two days in total, including meals delivered by bus.
She said the program will continue next week with just minor menu changes.
In the MPE kitchen, Weaver and Doehring are enthusiastic about their work.
“It’s going wonderfully well. We’re happy to be feeding the kids, unfortunately not seeing their toothless grins, which we love,” Weaver said.
On normal school days, “We have our regulars that we see every day and that hug and — we miss,” she added.
Weaver is hopeful about expanding the free lunch program while students are out of school.
“Our list is continuing to grow — more multiples than just singles,” she said. “I’m hoping it continues to grow because I know (how many) I feed on a regular basis, and I have concerns.”
The brown bag meals include white milk for breakfast and chocolate milk for lunch; cereal some days and breakfast bars other days; crackers; fresh fruits; carrots; applesauce and more.
“I hope that people hunker down and do what they’re supposed to do so we can stop this and feed the kids” hot lunches on school days as usual, Weaver said.
Doehring said she and Weaver start about 8 a.m. each day for the brown bag meal work and leave the school a little after noon.
Outside the school Tuesday, mom Allysen Gauze of Mahomet pulled her minivan up near the MPE cafeteria area and awaited brown bag lunches packed for her brood.
She and her husband have a fifth grader, second grader and one child of day care age. She works as a day care infant teacher at Busy Bulldogs Preschool and Child Care Center in Mahomet.
“I’m staying home currently — but they are still open — but I’m staying home with three kids,” Gauze said.
“They’re going stir crazy,” she said of her young children. “It’d be nice if the weather would get nice so they could at least be outside more.”
When it comes to COVID-19, Gauze has changed her mind on the subject since orders were put in place for Illinoisans to “shelter in place.”
“I was not (scared) at first,” she said. “But my husband has asthma and he’s terrified of the situation. It’s a little scary.”
As Mahomet residents come together amid anxiety over COVID-19, school leaders said they appreciate their community.
Hall said she is grateful for the public’s support of Mahomet-Seymour students and educators.
“Thank you for your patience, generosity, support and flexibility during this uncertain time,” she said. “It is appreciated by everyone on our staff.”
As of Wednesday, March 25, school districts in Illinois were scheduled to be closed through April 7 and tentatively resume regular operations on April 8, as mandated by the state.