Because of school closures caused by the coronavirus, the Pepper’s Mexican Grill locations in Shalimar and Crestview will offer free lunches for kids from 10:30 a.m. to noon through March 30.

The coronavirus threat means many children will have one less meal a day this week: their school lunch.

Because many schools will remain closed during the pandemic, the Pepper’s Mexican Grill locations in Shalimar and Crestview started offering free lunches to children on Monday. Parents came in with their children every 5 to 10 minutes the first day, said assistant manager Tammy Osborn.

"We decided to do this because we know it is a sudden event nobody expected to happen," Osborn said. "A lot of people are letting their kids go to school, but can’t afford to get lunch. The school also provides free lunches for kids, but we know the school will be closed for two weeks. We want to help the families who may need food or the extra help."

Fort Walton Beach resident Joycee Belton picked up seven lunches Monday for her foster children. They range from ages 6 to 14.

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"My boss sent me an email saying Pepper’s was offering free lunches to the kids out of school," Belton said. "I came right away. This is so awesome. I can’t believe someone doesn’t mind taking a hit."

Parents can pick up lunches from 10:30 a.m. to noon through March 30, and children must be present. Children will have their choice of cheese quesadillas, chicken or beef burritos and chicken or beef enchiladas – all with a side of rice and beans.

"As a family owned business, we know how important it is to support your family and how important it is to help others," Osborn said. "We just want to do whatever we can. We always try to help our community no matter what it is – sports or anything. Our community always gives back to us by supporting our restaurant."