Monroe County Schools began giving Grab ’n Go meals to students on Wednesday, March 18. Plans were to give the free bags packed with food for one breakfast and lunch on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and then evaluate the response and decide how best to help feed students while they aren’t coming to the school buildings for classes.
The Grab ’n Go meals were prepared by School Nutrition services, led by Nutrition Director Lisa Singley. School cafeteria managers Brandi Marks, Michele Roberts, Kay Ball and Rebecca Williams and cafeteria workers Erica Barecky and Jessica McMurray were on hand working with Singley on Wednesday, having begun their day at 6 a.m. and working over two days to assemble 800 bags. The local Walmart and Ingles stores donated the bags for the meals.
The meals were available for all Monroe County school children but were only distributed at Hubbard Elementary School. Packets of assignments for each elementary school grade level were also available at the bus loading zone where school personnel gave out the meals. Assisting the nutrition workers were Superintendent Dr. Mike Hickman, Assistant Superintendent Jackson Daniel, Parent Involvement Coordinator Brandi Pye and School Resource Officer Ken Blandenberg. Daniel offered information about the coronavirus to those who brought children to get meals.
As cars arrived they were greeted enthusiastically and the bagged meals given to children. Some adults had to be turned away because they didn’t have their children with them. Singley explained that under strict U.S.Department of Agriculture regulations the schools can only give food to children; U.S.D.A. funds the national school lunch (and breakfast) program.
One adult said she didn’t have car seats for all of the children for whom she needed to get meals. Hickman said other parents had told school officials they don’t have transportation for their students to pick up meals. Hickman said the school system is trying to come up with the best plan to get meals to students who need them while staying within the federal guidelines.
Singley said the Grab ’n Go meals meet the guidelines for school meals, including milk, juice, fruit, vegetable, protein and whole grain. The meals Wednesday had peanut butter & jelly uncrustables and whole grain chips along with other items. She said meals will vary with resources the nutrition program has available She said Monroe County Health Department Environmental Health inspected and approved the site for distributing meals.
Singley also made the activity of distributing meals a “wellness initiative” by encouraging children and parents to take advantage of the mild spring weather and spend time playing outside while they aren’t in classrooms. She noted that the school nutrition services workers pack “extra love in each bag.”
“I wouldn’t be anywhere else,” said one of the cafeteria managers.
Brandi Pye said that, separate from the Grab ’n Go meals, the Backpack Buddies program, which provides food over weekends for Monroe County students who might be without food otherwise, is working to provide more resources while they students aren’t getting their usual meals at school.
Backpack Buddies is coordinated by Monroe County Schools social worker Gwen Byrd but is funded by donations and facilitated by volunteers. Pye said the group distributed 600 grocery bags with about 27 nonperishable food items in each bag on Sunday and Monday, March 15-16. She said they took them to local apartment complexes, the Monroe County C.A.R.E. Cottage and the newly opened Closet on Phelps.
They went to neighborhoods where children who usually participate in Backpack Buddies live. They next plan to go to hotels and campgrounds where some of the school system’s children without permanent homes stay. She said many of the families don’t have transportation to come pick up food.
Pye said donations of non-perishable food items are welcome. CoTique (on the square), Southern Smiles dental office (on North Frontage Road) and the Forsyth Police Department have volunteered to be drop-off locations for donations. She said if you need food for children or know of someone who does, contact Gwen Byrd at Monroe County Schools, 478-994-2031.