Fact Check

Is McDonald's Giving Free Lunches to School Kids During Pandemic?

A few McDonald's locations in the U.S. made a major announcement about kids' meals.

Published March 20, 2020

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McDonald's is giving free lunches to school-age children during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What's True

A few McDonald's locations in North Carolina announced in March 2020 that they will provide free lunches to school-age children as families deal with the spread of COVID-19.

What's False

This is not a nationwide program, and not every McDonald's location is participating in it.

In March 2020, a rumor started to circulate on social media that McDonald's was giving free lunches to school-age children during the COVID-19 coronavirus disease pandemic:

Social media memes that claim a "free giveaway" often turn out to be false. But in this case, a bit of truth exists: A few restaurant locations in Iredell County, North Carolina, were indeed providing free meals to kids during this time.

The North Carolina publication The Statesville Record and Landmark reported on March 17, 2020, that McDonald's locations in that county were providing free meals to children age 12 and under on work days from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. during the pandemic:

McDonald’s restaurants in Iredell County have started offering school age children free meals around lunchtime, but that doesn’t mean the franchises are immune to some of the other anxieties they are facing during the pandemic.

Melissa Neader, who along with her husband Mike Neader own multiple McDonald’s locations in Iredell County, explained the decision was made to start offering free lunches during the school closure period after she saw other restaurants doing the same.

“It’s not just us,” she said in a phone interview Tuesday morning. “It’s (McDonald’s) owners and operators across the southeast partnering with schools and communities to offer additional support.”

From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, children 12 and under, accompanied by a parent/guardian, can choose between a plain hamburger, cheeseburger or four-piece chicken nugget, along with a yogurt, pack of sliced apples or small fry.

A McDonald's spokesperson confirmed to us that the decision to giveaway free lunch to school children was made by each individual franchise.

The spokesperson said:

There are many restaurants across the nation that have made pledges to support communities, including donating meals and coffee to healthcare workers, offering space in unused parking lots for healthcare purposes and offering free lunches to seniors and children displaced from school and we recognize these initiatives vary from location to location. McDonald’s and its franchisees remain committed to staying true to our purpose of feeding and fostering the communities we serve during these challenging times and beyond."

At the moment, this free lunch giveaway appears to be on a restaurant-by-restaurant basis. McDonald's has not announced a nationwide free lunch program.

McDonald's, as well as several other fast-food chains, announced in March 2020 that they were closing their dining rooms in order to encourage "social distancing." These restaurants are still open for drive-thru and delivery service.

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Kiefer, Ross.   "Iredell County McDonald's Offers Free Lunches to Select Students, Feels the Squeeze of Virus Anxieties."     Statesville Record and Landmark.   17 March 2020.

Dan Evon is a former writer for Snopes.