Generosity within Columbia seems to be stronger than ever as the community copes with COVID-19. Many restaurants are offering free meals to those who are having difficulties getting affordable food.

Slim Chickens’ food truck was stationed at the old Cedar Ridge Elementary School parking lot Friday to give out free meals to children. It also drove around the neighborhood and offered kids outside free chicken tender meals.

Scott Locke, who is in charge of the food truck and catering, said the restaurant usually sells affordable chicken meals, but the team at Slim Chickens decided to provide free chicken today in the elementary school area.

“My boss was saying, ‘I know these kids are not going to be able to eat, not going to have reduced lunch,’ so we went ahead and made about 300 pieces of chicken, around 150 orders for the kids, with chips and a drink and a cookie,” Locke said. “We just want to let people know we’re here and we do care, and we know even in hard times sharing is caring.”

Although Locke said it didn’t go as smoothly as he wanted Friday morning because there weren’t as many people out as Slim Chickens had hoped, it will continue to plan free meals in the future for children.

Broadway Diner, a staple of the Columbia food scene, tweeted Thursday that it will provide food for students who typically get to eat breakfast or lunch at school. Owner Dave Johnson also said in a follow-up tweet that he was “very proud of our community.”

“I was sitting down here yesterday morning and had been just feeling like everybody else, carrying the weight of the world,” Johnson said. “Then I realized I should be worrying about somebody else rather than myself.”

Johnson posted the tweet, deciding to “take care of the kids without breakfasts or lunch.” The tweet received many positive responses from the entire community. Most of the people visiting are kids in middle school and high school, but some parents are also coming with younger children.

“This morning, we had a teacher who was going out on Buddy Pack patrol and ordered 35 pack lunches,” Johnson said. “We’ve had like 70 people so far, so that’s really good.”

As long as Broadway Diner is open and staff are able to make it there safely, Johnson said it will continue to feed people.

Barbecue restaurant Como Smoke and Fire posted on Facebook on Thursday that it is providing free sack lunches for at-risk kids as a way “to support those most vulnerable in these turbulent times.”

“Christy (Hawkins), one of the owners, and Matthew (Hawkins), the two of them, they just kind of sat there and was like, ‘We’ve got to do this,’” said Molly Carmichael, the catering manager of Como Smoke and Fire. “We all have kids in school, and our kids, they get to eat. But we know there’s a lot of kids who do not.”

“Anybody and everybody can come in,” Carmichael said. “I would even say that if there’s an older person out there and they are so hungry and they were to come in, we’re not going to turn anybody away. That’s not how we are as a restaurant, as a family restaurant.”

To Carmichael, it’s amazing that restaurants in Columbia are coming together for the kids, the elderly and the medical staff.

On Wednesday, The Quarry posted on Facebook that instead of opening during its normal lunch hours, it is offering free sack lunches for children out of school. It professed that its owners and employees were not doctors or scientists but that they can help by feeding people.

On Instagram and Facebook, Beet Box announced that it would “continue to serve FREE fresh, healthy, locally sourced meals to kids or families in need” in addition to health care professionals and fellow restaurant industry employees who lose their jobs.

Peter Stiepleman, Columbia Public Schools superintendent, tweeted that Culver’s of Columbia will be giving out free sack lunches to the children who need it at Derby Ridge Elementary School on Monday. It will start at 11:30 a.m. and continue until lunches run out.

Burger King will also be offering two free kids meals for every adult meal purchased, but it’s only applicable for online orders or orders made through the Burger King app.

EquipmentShare, a construction technology solutions company, is chipping in with its No Child Hungry program, where its cooking staff will offer at least 100 meals per day next week. It has not confirmed where it will be distributing the food yet.

For more COVID-19 related news, see our section dedicated to COVID-19 updates.
  • Public Health and Safety reporter, Spring 2020. Studying Magazine Writing. Reach me at, or in the newsroom at 882-5700.

  • As senior editor of the Missourian, Fred Anklam manages general assignment reporters. He can be reached at or in the newsroom at 573-882-5720.

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