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Feeding hungry children during the pandemic is a ‘fulfilling ministry’ for diocesan School Food Service

A family drives past the Owensboro Catholic Schools K-3 Campus with a sign and streamers thanking the School Food Service employees for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic. COURTESY OF SCHOOL FOOD SERVICE

BY ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD, THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC

The Diocese of Owensboro’s School Food Service didn’t let a global pandemic stop them from serving food to hungry kids – and with schools closed for the summer, they have continued distributing free meals to any young person 18 and under.

“Knowing that we are able to provide meals to the children and help families has been a wonderful experience,” said Sonya Evans, the School Food Service director.

After the COVID-19 pandemic had reached Kentucky in March 2020, the Kentucky state government instituted a policy of no in-person instruction in schools beginning on March 16.

School Food Service employees Tricia Canary, Stacey Sapp and Lauren Orth mask up to distribute meals at the Owensboro Catholic Schools K-3 Campus. COURTESY OF SCHOOL FOOD SERVICE

But for many children and families, this meant the loss of meals that used to be guaranteed during the school day. Students who normally received their breakfasts and lunches at school were now at the risk of going hungry.

Like their public school counterparts, the diocese’s School Food Service leapt into action.

“We immediately submitted our application to the KY Department of Education School and Community Nutrition office,” said Evans. “They approved quickly and we served our first meals on Monday, March 16.”

Evans said the Food Service office started distributing meals at four Catholic school locations: the Owensboro Catholic Schools K-3 Campus, Mary Carrico Catholic School in Knottsville, St. Joseph Catholic School in Bowling Green and Christ the King Catholic School in Madisonville.

She added that the front line workers at all sites have been following the safety guidelines to protect the all involved from the risk of spreading the virus.  

“Masks and gloves are worn by our employees,” said Evans. “The meals are picked up as grab and go.”

She said her office has had about 10 employees continuously working at all four sites.

Evans said that in March they served 1,205 breakfast and 2,890 lunches. April had 6,813 breakfasts and 6,894 lunches. And in May, they served 5,435 breakfasts and 5,432 lunches.

Sonya Evans is the director of the Diocese of Owensboro’s School Food Service. FILE PHOTO

“Breakfast meals are given out with lunches for the following day; the families get two meals at one pick up,” said Evans, explaining that the normal policy of children being required to eat on-site was waived.

Now that the school year is over, the summer feeding program has begun and Evans said the transition was “flawless.”

She said her office has received waivers to continue the “grab-and-go” service for the summer months.

Currently, they have four summer feeding sites and Evans said they will be adding two more in Henderson after June 15.

“We are open to adding any other sites that would be interested or need free meals,” she said.

Evans said that thanks to the dedicated work of her employees, it has nonetheless been a “great experience in such a hard time as the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“I feel I can speak for all Food Service employees in saying that it is a fulfilling ministry and how rewarding it is to witness the gratitude and seeing smiling faces daily,” she said.

For more information on anything related to School Food Service, contact Sonya Evans, director, at (270) 852-8337 or [email protected].


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Diocese of Owensboro 600 Locust Street Owensboro, KY 42301 270-683-1545

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