The words “be prepared to pivot” and “be flexible” have been uttered many times by Baldwin County School Superintendent Dr. Noris Price when referring to this unprecedented school year.
One school district department is doing just that in an effort to better reach students doing their learning from home thanks to federal waivers. Baldwin County School Nutrition is once again ramping up its summer meal mobile operation to try and get food to kids who opted to start the year in virtual learning.
As is the case during the summer, these meals are being made available to schoolchildren free of charge.
The program kicks off Wednesday as five school buses will run routes through the community carrying a week’s worth of meals for children. Route information can be found on the Baldwin County School District website, www.baldwincountyschoolsga.org, or the Baldwin County School Nutrition Facebook page. Times given for stops are estimates, as they can vary based on how many children show up at each stop. Routes will run each Wednesday.
The summer meal program is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture, which has granted the waivers for school systems to get the program going during the school year to help ensure that kids have access to food. That’s not the only waiver that has been granted to accommodate these very different times schools are experiencing. Adults will be allowed to pick up the meals to give to their children without the children having to be present as is customary.
“Usually in the summer you have to eat your meals in front of us and we can only hand it to a student. Now, with all the waivers out, we’re doing a whole box to cover kids’ meals for seven days a week,” school nutrition director Susan Nelson told the school board during last week’s meeting.
During the regular summer meal program, several sites around the community like the Mary Vinson Memorial Library and Collins P. Lee Center usually act as open sites for meal pickup. The upcoming operation will be bus route only though.
“Those places aren’t really open right now, and if they are it’s like for an after school program,” Nelson said. “So we’re going directly to the kids.”
In addition to covering a week’s worth of meals for virtual students, Nelson said in-person learners will also be given food on Fridays to cover them through the weekend while they are away from school so everyone has equal access.
Making the meal program mobile similar to the summer is a pivot from what school nutrition was trying through the first few weeks of the school year. Parents of virtual learners could order meals online to be picked up weekly at their child’s school, but the response and reach just haven’t been there. The bus routes will completely replace the weekly meal pickup at schools.
“We really tried to reach out to our 3,500 virtual students, but we’ve only been serving about 100 of them each week,” said Nelson. “It just did not work, but we tried. Now we can get the buses back out again and hopefully get to a lot more of the students.”
The school nutrition director added that the mobile meal program will operate through Dec. 31, or until USDA says the funding has run out. Both Nelson and Price were thankful that the federal agency granted the waivers necessary to reach more students.
“We are elated that this waiver has been given to allow us to use our summer meals routes to take the food directly to our students,” Price said.