USD 489 Hays has suspended meal services to children through Sunday, April 26, after an employee of the district’s food service department tested positive for COVID-19, the school district announced Thursday afternoon.

The district had been serving more than 1,600 free meals a day to children in USD 489 and those attending parochial schools in the area.  Children received lunch and the next day’s breakfast.

Since the suspension, several Hays restaurants have announced they will be providing free or low-cost meals to children during the week.

The USD 489 news release stated that the food service employee was exposed to the virus outside of work and that the individual had not come into contact with students, families, or volunteers. Anyone who was in contact with the individual has been notified by the Ellis County Health Department (ECDH), the release stated.

“It saddens us to deliver this news,” the release said, “and our thoughts are with our employee and those impacted by COVID-19 in any manner. USD 489 will continue to work closely with ECHD officials as we make plans to resume meals Monday, April 27. We appreciate the understanding of our families in this manner.”

In response to that news, several Hays restaurants have stepped up to help out. Below are listed those restaurants who circulated information on social media and who responded to requests from The Hays Daily News for more information by press time.  The restaurants are listed in alphabetical order.

McDonald’s of Hays will be providing $1 Happy Meals from 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday at both of its Hays locations’ drive-through windows, said Deana Rupp, marketing director.  Those locations are at 1201 Vine St. and 3406 N. Vine St.

McDonald’s is not requiring that children be in the car when the meals are purchased, but “the whole thrust of this is to help out the kids.  We don’t want the kids having to skip meals,” Rupp said.

“We just want to give back to the community that supports us,” she added.

Pheasant Run Pancake House, 3201 Vine St., will be offering four different kids’ meals options, each costing $2, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.  The meals are available by take-out only by calling (785) 628-1044. Children must be present when the orders are picked up.

The Paisley Pear, 1100 Main, will be offering kid-size cheese pizzas for $1 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, said Shaun Musil, co-owner.

The pizzas will be distributed either through take-out or free delivery, Musil said.  He added people should call the restaurant at (785) 621-4660 and place their order ahead of time. There is a 10 to 15-minute wait for the pizzas.

Children do not need to be present, and there is no limit to how many pizzas a family can order. “We’ll serve them until we run out,” Musil said.

The Press restaurant, located in the Hadley Center at 230 E. Eighth, is providing free meals for children from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, said Phil Kuhn, manager.

The meals will be distributed via a drive-through that the restaurant is setting up in its parking lot off Eighth Street, he said.

The Press will be providing up to 750 meals per day on a first-come, first-served basis, Kuhn said, and children must be present in the car.

“We just want to get meals to the kids who need them,” Kuhn said.  He added the restaurant would be following the same nutritional standards the school district follows. The children’s meals will include a fruit, vegetable, starch, protein, and a carton of milk.

Wendy’s will be offering a $1 “student special” breakfast meal from 6:30 to 10:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday at both of its Hays restaurants’ drive-through windows. A different meal will be offered each day.

Children do not need to be present in the car, but “parents do need to request the children’s meal deal when ordering,” said Derrick Gates, manager.  Wendy’s is located at 1800 Vine St. and 4235 Vine St.

Two individuals in the community are collecting monetary donations that will go to McDonald’s to cover the $1 Happy Meal cost.

Heidi Wamser, a teacher in the USD 489 district, and Becky Rogowski, a staff member at Hays First Presbyterian Church, are collecting money “because even paying $1 for a meal is more than many families can afford,” Rogowski said.

“We’re hoping we get enough money so families don’t have to pay anything,” Rogowski added.  She and Wamser are accepting donations by check, credit card, PayPal, and Venmo.

To contribute, individuals may call Rogowski at (785) 623-0179 or Wamser at (785) 259-3821.  Wamser said any money left over at the end of the week would go to charities that provide food for families in Hays.

Rupp with McDonald’s said on Friday that customers had been buying gift cards and leaving them at the restaurants to be used for the meals for children.

Musil at the Paisley Pear also said, “We’ve had people donating money to us to help us pay for the cost of the food.  It certainly wasn’t anything we expected or asked for.”

Rogowski said, “It’s been very overwhelming — the people who have wanted to help.”