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Local schools offer free meals for students during closures
 Stephanie Markham  / 

By the third day Bradley Elementary School District 61 administrators drove around to deliver meals to students, some kids were waiting in their windows for their principals to arrive.

“I think it’s a highlight of their morning to get to see their principals,” said Bradley Central principal Mark Kohl, who drove the bus. “It’s been really good for the students to see us out in their community and at their doorstep helping them out.”

In response to mandated school closures across Illinois, which began March 17 and will extend to at least April 7, many local school districts provided free breakfasts and lunches for their students this past week.

Food services will not be offered during spring break from March 23 to 27; however, districts have been preparing for the possibility of extended school closures, and most plan to resume food services March 30.

Kohl said administrators had an emergency meeting last Saturday, and one of the main concerns was students getting enough food.

In addition to offering grab-and-go meals at Bradley Central, the team made a list of about 75 students they thought might have difficulty getting to the school to pick up meals.

The district’s food service staff prepared daily meals, and a group of five to six administrators drove around Bradley for about two hours each day to deliver them.

Kohl said offering continued food service is especially important because more than half of the district’s students are from low-income households.

“We’re sad for our kids,” Kohl said. “We care about our students so much; we put so much into our students that we just worry about them.”

Though they are concerned, the administrators also enjoyed being able to give back to students during this difficult time, he said.

“Really we’re in this business for kids, for students,” Kohl said. “We actually love seeing them these mornings as well, because we’re missing out on them for that opportunity to just to show that we care about them and that we think a lot of them.”

Momence Community Unit School District 1 also delivered meals to students this past week while they were unable to attend school.

Superintendent Shannon Anderson said the district decided to take it a step further than grab-and-go meals, a critical decision since about 72 percent of students qualify for free- and reduced- lunch.

“You’ve seen what’s going on in the grocery stores; it’s a challenge for anybody right now to get good meals and good food in the homes,” he said. “We knew that we could provide that, so we just thought this would be something to get to our kids so we could guarantee they would eat, because you can’t learn without being able to eat.”

Food service staff prepared about 372 breakfasts and lunches per day, and Central Illinois bus drivers delivered the meals to students over about a two-hour period. In addition to the meals, one of the school librarians had the idea to deliver books to students as well.

“This is just another effort to keep them engaged during this time with continued learning,” Anderson said.

Anderson said he boarded one of the bus routes, and the looks on students’ faces were evidence that the effort is worth it.

“They were smiling and happy to see us because they haven’t seen their staff and people for a while, and in some cases a sense of relief,” he said. “You could see some of the little ones just happy to get a meal and have some sense of school during this time.”

Many other districts, including Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School District 307, offered grab-and-go meals this past week for students and parents to come pick up as needed.

Superintendent Scott Wakeley said only about 20 students were picking up meals each day, and the district plans to bring meals to families at certain meeting points after spring break. About 40 percent of students at BBCHS are considered low-income, he said.

“We always say in BBCHS, the C stands for community; this is a community high school,” he said. “So when the community is hurting and we have unprecedented issues, a pandemic, like we have now, it’s part of our mission as a public school to help the community out.”

Numerous stores latest virus victim
 leeprovost63  / 

Numerous retailers are joining the ranks of those who have temporarily closed their doors in response to the coronavirus containment efforts.

Northfield Square mall in Bradley, like every mall throughout the state, was to close as of 3 p.m. Saturday.

All non-essential retailers were also to close their locations and many have announced they indeed have done that.

Marshalls, which has a store in the Watertower Place shopping complex anchored by Target, closed Thursday as its owner, TJX Companies, said it was attempting to prevent staff and customers from contracting the coronavirus.

Here is only a partial list of notable stores with local locations which have closed or are allowing only curbside pickup due to virus concerns: JCPenney’s, Kohl’s, Old Navy, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Macy’s, Apple and Bed, Bath & Beyond.

“This is definitely a very trying time,” said Emily Poff, Kankakee County Chamber of Commerce president and CEO. “Businesses of all types will be hurting, but especially small business.”

Poff said so many businesses operate on thin profit margins that an interruption on a scale such as this can be devastating

“Some business I’m afraid will likely not make it,” she said. “Hopefully when this is done, they will be able to pick up the pieces. None of us were prepared for this when the new year came. How could we have been? I don’t know what the full implications will be.”

Poff said statewide chamber leadership have been in discussions with the state’s Small Business Administration to press for relief and assistance for the owners.

She noted she is maintaining contact with numerous chamber members.

“There is just so much uncertainly. It’s just a mess,” she said.

Conrad Raczkowski, manager of Northfield Square, said those mall businesses which had not previously closed due to the virus, did so Saturday. He said the mall will remain shuttered until the governor allows it and every other mall across the state to reopen.

When that may be is a question Raczkowski hesitated to even guess.

“Five o’clock. That was it. To be honest, most of the tenants were already in the process of shutting down. I have never experienced a situation like this before,” he said.

The list of “essential” businesses include grocery stores, drug stores, hardware, pet supplies, media, banks, credit unions, charitable organization, gas stations, auto repair, and transportation will remain open.

Bradley Mayor Pro-Tem Mike Watson said there is no way of predicting what type of impact these lost sales taxes will have on communities.

“Grocery stores have been doing big business. March [sales] numbers could actually be big due to grocery stores. It’s wait-and-see right now. We’ll see how the numbers respond,” he said.

How long will these stores be closed? That answer is unknown. Companies note on answering machines or on websites that most will last for at least two weeks.

“This pandemic has affected everyone’s lives, including those of our associates and customers,” TJ Maxx CEO Ernie Herrman wrote. “We are concerned for the health and financial well-being of our associates, and we plan to pay our store, distribution and office associates for two weeks during these closures.”

The company also is suspending operations on its e-commerce website, tjmaxx.com, marshalls.com and sierra.com. The company has closed its distribution and fulfillment centers and offices.

• • •

As the COVID-19 illness has waged war on public health, it has also delayed the opening of the Hospice of Kankakee Valley’s large expansion in Bourbonnais.

The planned grand opening of the Community Grief Center, 3114 Career Center Road, which had been set for 10:30 a.m. March 27, has been delayed until further notice, executive director Connie Lemon said Thursday.

Lemon said this simply is not the environment to have a grand opening. She said staff are communicating by telephone with those in need of hospice bereavement counseling.

“We have counselors in the building, but everything is being done on the phone right now,” she said. “It’s going OK. Our partners are quite OK with the telephone system. We’ve received no push-back.”

Regarding the delayed opening, she said there is nothing that can be done about it.

“We’ve been working on this project for two years, what’s another few weeks?” she said.

Hospice purchased the former Lutheran Church of The Good Shepherd along Illinois Route 102 and Career Center Road. The 8,000-square-foot building, which sits on 1.6 acres, has been completely redesigned.

When the grand opening will be held, Lemon said is something she could not speculate.

“We’ll let you know, but not until we know,” she informed me.

Best wishes to everyone within the community. These are difficult and frightening times. Do your best to follow the simple rules of staying away from crowds and frequently washing your hands.

Stay safe.

Questions about the shutdown? We've got answers

Daily Journal staff report

Illinois residents are under a shelter-in-place order as announced Friday by Gov. J.B. Pritzker. But what exactly does that mean? Below are answers to questions readers are frequently asking:

Can I leave the house?

Residents are allowed to leave their home for ordinary functions such as seeking medical attention and to acquire necessary supplies and services, including groceries, medicines and supplies that enable them to work from home.

People also can leave their home to take care of others and to perform certain types of work providing essential products and services at essential businesses and operations.

What is considered an essential activity?

Essential activities include health care and public health operations, including veterinary care and the manufacturing and distribution of medical equipment; human services operations such as nursing homes that provide care to the frail, elderly and disabled; essential infrastructure such as food production and distribution, certain kinds of construction and operating public utilities; and essential government functions.

What is considered an essential business?

Essential businesses include such things as grocery stores and pharmacies; food, beverage and cannabis production; agriculture; organizations that provide charitable and social services; banks; newspapers, television, radio and other media services; gas stations and other businesses needed for transportation; financial institutions; and hardware and supply stores.

Critical trades are essential and include plumbers, electricians, exterminators, cleaning and janitorial staff for commercial and governmental properties, security staff, operating engineers, HVAC, painting and moving and relocation services.

Shelters and laundry services also may remain open.

Are day cares considered essential businesses?

Day cares for children of workers exempted by the order may remain open.

What must close?

The order temporarily shutters movie theaters, parks, playgrounds, salons, non-grocery retail stores, carnivals, theme and water parks, aquariums, zoos, museums, arcades, fairs, bowling alleys, concert and music halls, country clubs and social clubs. Any nonessential business that must close its physical workplace may continue operating with employees working exclusively from home if possible.

Will the order be enforced?

State and local law enforcement officials will have authority to enforce the order. In most cases, that would involve officers telling people to disburse and go back home. If they don’t, they could be cited for disorderly conduct or other municipal offenses, according to Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who acknowledged that resources aren’t available to police all individual behavior. He encouraged, though, that residents be “good members of their communities, and good citizens, working together to keep each other safe.”

Will roads be shut down?

Local roads — including interstate highways, tollways Interstates and bridges — will stay open. Public transit, will remain open and operating as well.

What is the limit on gatherings now?

The executive order decreases the previously set limit of 50-person gathers to no more than 10 people.

Can I travel?

Yes, with “essential travel” including traveling into or out of the state if necessary for maintaining essential business operations. Also allowed is travel to work deemed essentially necessary; to care for an elderly person, minors and dependents, someone with disabilities or other vulnerable people; travel required by law enforcement or court order; travel to return to one’s residence, including out of state; and travel to a school or other educational center to obtain distance learning materials or meals.

Can I exercise outside?

Residents are allowed to leave home for outdoor activities such as walking, jogging, running or walking their dog, provided they maintain at least a 6-foot distance from others. Playgrounds, however, were ordered closed.

Will restaurants be open?

Per the order, bars and restaurants will still be allowed to offer carry-out, curbside pickup and delivery, and mail and shipping operations will continue as well.

What if I’m not safe in my own home?

Victims of domestic violence are not only allowed by urged to leave their home and go to a safe location.