MATTHEWS – School lunch means socializing with friends, taking a break from classes and getting energy out on the schoolyard. But for some students, school lunch means more than that; it is the only substantial meal they will get that day.
Many students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and Union County Public Schools rely on breakfasts and lunches provided by the school district. Now that schools are closed as a safety precaution, many families were left wondering how they could feed their children at this time.
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Since the announcement to close schools, both school districts have separately announced grab-and-go programs to provide food to students who need it. CMS and UCPS posted a list of meal distribution locations where students can pick up breakfast and lunch free of charge. But several local restaurants and businesses have also stepped in to help.
Chris Sottile, who owns The Loyalist Market in Matthews, posted on Instagram that the market would provide lunches to students who needed them 20 minutes after the announcement.
“It was kind of just like, ‘let’s get to work,’” Sottile said.
The response was bigger and quicker than Sottile expected.
“We were planning on just feeding 50 people here every single day,” Sottile said. “I started getting emails and messages from teachers asking how do they get food from a lot of different quadrants of the city. I saw that this would be way bigger than what I’m thinking.”
Sottile reached out to other restaurants in Charlotte and Waxhaw he thought might be interested in participating and started a GoFundMe page, which has since raised more than $41,000. Each participating restaurant will receive at least $1,600 to feed 50 kids a day, along with $45 per day in labor costs to bring employees in.
“We’re trying to encourage them, if you’ve had to cut back hours for somebody or you just recently laid them off because of everything that’s going on, bring them back and just give them something while this is going on,” Sottile said.
The program started March 17. Sottile said they did not have a huge rush, but spoke with other locations that had higher turnouts. He said one restaurant that wasn’t part of the program at first had 150 kids come in. Now, the restaurant is part of the program and will receive funds from the GoFundMe donations.
Kristopher’s Sports Bar and Restaurant in Matthews is one of the participants in the program. Owner Robby Stringer said he has many friends who are teachers in CMS and many patrons who are CMS families. He also received an unprecedented amount of support, garnering 128,000 views on his Facebook post to announce the restaurant’s efforts.
Stringer said many have called to contribute monetary and food donations. One of his customers brought in cupcakes so that every student participating could receive a dessert with their lunch.
“It’s been a blessing,” Stringer said. “We’ve been blessed so we’re trying to bless some other people.”
Also partnering with The Loyalist Market is Provisions in Waxhaw. As a parent, co-owner Lisa Vigil felt the need to help the community.
“My husband and I have four children and they’re all out of school now. We run the business together, so our business is kind of an extension of our home,” Vigil said. “We would never invite someone into our home and have them go hungry. Even though we do, on a normal basis, make profit and make our living off of feeding people, if there are children in need in our community, I want to be able to make sure that they’re fed. I just think it’s the right thing to do as a mother and as a person and a business owner and as a human.”
All business owners said no student ID is needed and they are happy to feed any student who needs a meal, even if they do not normally rely on school lunches.
The Loyalist Market’s program is set to run through March 30, which is when schools are supposed to remain closed until, but Sottile said anything can happen, especially considering the recent mandate to close sit-down restaurants and restrict to takeout orders only.
“There are so many unknowns as to what will happen,” Sottile said. “We might get shut down tomorrow. I have no idea. So we’re going to just keep running along the best we can until we’re told otherwise.”
Though it is not part of The Loyalist Market’s Program, Get Fit Foods in Charlotte also stepped in to help the community. David Yermanos, who owns the business, said he feels his purpose is to help where he can, especially now. He was contacted by some friends putting together a food drive where students can pick up necessary breakfast and lunch items at a location in north Charlotte.
People have donated breakfast bars, canned soups and more at Get Fit Foods locations across Charlotte, including the locations in Ballantyne Village and on Park Road.
While the program initially was only going to last a few days, Yermanos expects it to last longer. He said they will keep going as long as supplies last. Additionally, because his business is takeout, Get Fit Foods is still serving meals while they are able to.
“At this point, it’s up to us as community leaders to step in and help as best we can,” Yermanos said. “This is just the start. We’ll see what other efforts we can spearhead after this.”
People can still drop off donations at any of the Get Fit Foods locations in Charlotte from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
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