After serving more than 310,000 combined meals in two months, Bartow County’s two school systems wrapped up their meal delivery programs last week, but they’re collaborating to continue feeding their students through most of the summer.
The Cartersville and Bartow County school districts served their last meals for the 2019-20 school year last Thursday and Friday, respectively, and immediately began working together on the summer feeding program.
Bartow’s school nutrition and transportation employees and various volunteers prepared and delivered 194,350 breakfasts/snacks and 194,350 lunches to kids in their district since Gov. Brian Kemp closed down the schools in mid-March.
School Nutrition Director Oreal Oladele called those employees “true superheroes.”
“Their passion for meeting the needs of our students led us to feed thousands of Bartow County children during the extended school closure,” she said. “Nutrition and transportation employees are essential workers; their jobs support our students’ academic success and promote healthy habits that encourage the development of lifelong nutrition.”
Oladele also said her department is “very thankful for the volunteers that helped during the school closure.”
“The Bartow County Fire Department, Bartow County Parks and Recreation Department and the Community Emergency Response Team helped daily at all four of our meal-production sites,” she said. “The help was needed, and we greatly appreciated it.”
She said she’s also grateful for the prepackaged apple slices donated by the Cartersville McDonald’s and the Martin-Brower Co. and for the free meals provided to each employee by 94.9 The Bull radio station and McDonald's.
Though a smaller system than Bartow, Cartersville wasn’t far behind in the number of meals it served to students – 120,382.
“It's hard for me to express how much I appreciate everything our school nutrition and transportation employees did during this program,” School Nutrition Director Christina Nichols said. “Each and every one of them stepped up to the plate and ensured that they completed their job as well as they could. Our hearts are truly in it.”
Before they had time to catch their breath, Nichols and Oladele jumped into making plans to continue feeding the masses of children across the county through the USDA Seamless Summer Option program.
Starting Monday and running through July 16, all kids 18 and under will be provided free lunches and snacks each week at designated volunteer sites or through delivery to their homes.
“We want to ensure that our students have our delicious school meals year-round,” Nichols said.
While this will be the 14th summer that the Cartersville system has provided these meals, Bartow is participating in the feeding program for the first time.
“This year, Bartow County and Cartersville City school nutrition developed a partnership to provide summer meals to children ages 18 and under in Bartow County,” Oladele said. “With the pandemic, we suspect that the need for summer meals will be greater than years past, and we wanted to help meet the needs of our community.”
Lunches will be distributed on Mondays and Thursdays at various volunteer partner locations across Bartow County, according to Oladele.
The first package will include a kid-friendly lunch and a snack for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday while the second package will include a lunch and snack for Thursday and Friday.
Registration is not necessary.
“Just show up at the site at 11:30 [a.m.] to receive meals,” Nichols said.
Besides collaborating with the county system, Nichols said she also has partnered with the Red Door Food Pantry to “meet the growing demand” for meals this year.
“All meals will be prepared and packaged at Cartersville Middle School and then transported in Red Door's refrigerated truck to four Bartow County schools and Cartersville High, where our sites will then be able to pick up meals for distribution,” she said. “This added logistical step exponentially increases the number of students we can feed as we will have enough cooler room and will reduce the number of people who are coming in contact with each other.”
She also said the U.S. Department of Agriculture has “provided some COVID-related flexibilities this year” in the way the food is distributed.
“We are able to deliver directly to homes, and we will offer contactless curbside to-go meals,” she said.
Nichols added the two school systems are “deeply grateful to our community of volunteers."
“We would not be able to feed our students during the summer without their support,” she said.
For site locations and other program information, visit the school districts’ Facebook pages and websites.