CORONAVIRUS

Zach Johnson Foundation's reading program won't be in Cedar Rapids classrooms this summer

The foundation, instead, will support school district's meal distribution sites

From left, Kamaria Wade, Jenna Benson and Fawn Willis work on an assignment in Katie Cook's reading class for rising fou
From left, Kamaria Wade, Jenna Benson and Fawn Willis work on an assignment in Katie Cook’s reading class for rising fourth graders at Kids On Course at Harrison Elementary School in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, July 12, 2016. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Kids on Course University, the free summer reading program that has made gains in closing reading achievement gaps among Cedar Rapids students, will not hold classes this summer, according to a Wednesday news release from the Zach Johnson Foundation.

The foundation, started by the pro golfer who grew up in Cedar Rapids, has operated the reading program with the Cedar Rapids Community School District since 2013.

This year, instead, the foundation will provide 30 staffers to support the school district’s nine meal distribution sites. Free meals, made available through a U.S. Department of Agriculture program, will continue to be available for anyone 18 or younger through August 7.

School staff and volunteers have been distributing free “grab and go” meals at those sites since school closed in mid-March. Since then, they’ve given out more than 260,000 meals and demand continues to increase, according to the release.

Zach Johnson Foundation Executive Director Jenny Becker said the foundation opted to focus on feeding thousands rather than educating the hundreds of students who would have qualified for Kids on Course University.

“With the incredible amount of food insecurity right now in our community, we thought this would be the most impactful plan,” Becker said. “And we know kids can’t learn at all if they’re hungry.”

The foundation and school district also will distribute books, activities and other school supplies at the meal sites, she said, and take precautions to maintain social distancing at the sites.

Reading Program Still Expected To Expand

The Zach Johnson Foundation still is planning to expand Kids on Course, its year-round program, to Cedar River Academy at Taylor Elementary in August, Becker said. Much of the financial support for Kids on Course is raised during a summer gala and Pro-Am charity golf tournament.

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The gala will be held virtually June 6, and Becker said the foundation is unsure how to host the golf tournament safely or if it will be held at all this year. Last year the gala brought in $1.1 million, she said, a significant amount for the foundation.

Giving from businesses and individuals, even without an in-person event this year, “is allowing us to move forward with our plans for next school year,” Becker said, adding the foundation has reserves. “That being said, like anyone with a savings account, it’s tough when you have to dig so far into the savings account. So we continue to seek out donations.”

Cedar Rapids Schools’ Meal Sites

Meals are available from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Friday, through August 7.

• Arthur Elementary, 2630 B Ave. NE

• Grant Elementary, 254 Outlook Dr. SW

• Grant Wood Elementary, 645 26th St. SE

• Hoover Elementary, 4141 Johnson Ave. NW

• Johnson Elementary, 355 18th St. SE

• Nixon Elementary, 200 Nixon Dr. Hiawatha,

• Taylor Elementary, 720 Seventh Ave. SW

• Wright Elementary, 1524 Hollywood Blvd. NE

• Roosevelt Middle School, 300 13th St. NW

Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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