By Tori Mason

AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – Out of the 40,000 students in the Aurora Public School district, 70% are on free or reduced lunch. That need didn’t disappear while lunchrooms sat empty most of the year. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to increased food insecurity in the city.

APS expanded its reach Wednesday, allowing anyone in the community to have a Thanksgiving meal.

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“We believe that this is a necessity. Feeding kids a healthy breakfast and lunch is what helps them be the best version of themselves in a classroom,” said Shannon Solomon, Director of Nutrition Services at APS. “They need their tummies not to be rumbling so they can focus on an education and that’s a severe need.”

APS Nutrition Services team has served 3.4 million free meals to children and adults in the Aurora community since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March.

The USDA extended free meals for students through the end of the year. When to comes to feeding adults, the district was able to fundraise enough money to ensure anyone in need of food this holiday will have some on their table.

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Each kit contains turkey roast, mashed potatoes, green beans, rolls and pumpkin pie. The kits serve a family of four — meaning APS is serving a total of 32,000 meals for the holiday.

“Some of the stories we’ve heard are ‘Thank you, this helps with our grocery bill. We’ve had layoffs we’ve been out of work. We’re able to pay our mortgage because having these lunches and breakfasts really help with the grocery bill,’” said Shannon Solomon, Director of Nutrition Services at APS.

Aurora Public Schools used a newly-renovated bus to help safely serve 8,000 free, hot “grab & go” Thanksgiving meal kits at multiple locations. The new bus allows for self-service from heated and refrigerated compartments — ensuring social distancing between community members and staff.

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“The bus now features two hot-holding cabinets and a refrigerated drawer that APS Nutrition Services staff load from inside the bus and then slide out for quick self-service,” officials stated.

APS Nutrition Services has two other buses it uses for the grab & go meal service and hopes to upgrade those buses with the same equipment over the next few months.

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In addition to turkey dinners, APS also gave families food to get them to next school week. The daily food giveaways will pause on Thursday and Friday.

Tori Mason