Through its first three days the Baldwin County School District’s (BCSD) summer meal program, repurposed for this unexpected time of school closures due to COVID-19, fed about 7,200 meals to around 3,600 kids in the community.
The program offering free lunch and breakfast to kids from birth to age 18 achieved liftoff Tuesday and quickly rounded into form despite being in some very unprecedented territory.
“We're experts at running the summer meal program, but we usually have several months leading up to that to do training and get all of our food in,” said BCSD nutrition director Susan Nelson. “Right now we’re using what we have in our freezers. Most school systems are only serving cold food, but we’re committed to doing a hot lunch as long as we can. I’m proud of the fact that we can offer them a hot meal.”
Nelson says 600 kids were served 1,200 meals on what was a “hectic” initial day while officials worked out the kinks. Participation ballooned the next two days to around 1,500 kids and 3,000 meals on Wednesday and Thursday. Numbers for Friday were not available as of presstime. Kids receive a hot lunch and a cold breakfast that they can keep in their homes until the next morning.
As it does during normal summer operations, the program does not run on the weekends, but will pick back up Monday. The school district is reaching kids in two ways. First, several sites throughout the community (Baldwin High School, Midway Hills Academy, the Mary Vinson Memorial Library, Wray Homes, Graham Homes and the Collins P. Lee Center) have been designated as drive-thru/pickup locations for meals. Meals can be picked up at those locations weekdays between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Four bus routes are also running in the community to areas where many students and their families live. The summer meal program usually has two of those routes, but two more have been added to get those who live outside the city limits but still in the county. The added routes seem to be serving as a successful pilot for the summer.
“Routes one and two are what we do during the summer, and three and four were created for outlying areas,” Nelson said. “They’re doing really well. We'll probably leave those on for the summer also, especially in July. It’s basically a food dessert out there. There’s no grocery stores with fresh produce or meats, it’s just convenience store food. I had already been in talks with the fire department and preachers out in those areas to figure out how we could get those kids meals. This kind of resolved that problem.”
Two stops have been added to the end of mobile bus route 1, so families in the Tall Oaks mobile home park as well as the Cedar Ridge Apartments can be on the lookout for the meal-toting school bus on weekdays.
It is important to note that the meal program is not just for BCSD students. Any child from birth to 18 years old is eligible to receive these free meals, but the child must be present when meals are being picked up per program regulations. Parents are not supposed to pick up the meals then take them home to kids. This is to ensure that children are the ones getting the food.
Nelson thanked her school nutrition employees, led by manager Fatima Pryor, as well as the school district transportation department and community volunteers for their involvement in helping feed local children.
BCSD has the meal program bus route schedule and pickup site information available on a digital flyer on the organization’s Facebook page.