CONYERS — With COVID-19 bringing school operations to an unexpected halt, school systems throughout the state are scrambling to find ways to provide meals to students who might go hungry without school-provided breakfast and lunch.
The Rockdale County Public Schools’ Nutrition program team gathered Monday afternoon to assemble 3,200 breakfast and lunch bags to hand out to food insecure students starting Tuesday.
Simultaneously, Newton County Schools secured a grant from the Georgia Department of Education to offer sack lunches to their students starting Tuesday as well.
After participating in several conference calls with Gov. Brian Kemp, RCPS Superintendent Dr. Terry Oatts and NCSS Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey made the decision to close all Rockdale and Newton County campuses for two weeks starting Monday, March 16.
“As we continue to actively monitor COVID-19 developments, I will always prioritize the safety and well-being of our staff, students and families,” said Dr. Oatts in a statement released last Thursday.
After establishing the district-wide closure, Oatts, RCPS Nutrition program Executive Director Peggy Lawrence and all others involved started working immediately to ensure students would not miss a meal.
“Under Mrs. Lawrence’s leadership, our award-winning School Food Nutrition program has long since distinguished itself regionally and statewide for its commitment and dedication to combating food insecurity throughout Rockdale County,” said Oatts.
As Lawrence and her team loaded the buses with hundreds of coolers, she thanked team members for their work.
“Thank you all for being here today. This is something we have never done before,” said Lawrence. “We have doubled our routes, and we are still not sure what to expect. We have had several concerned parents calling to see where we will be.”
RCPS’ Nutrition program has an active summer and winter break meal program, Be Bright, Eat Right Rockdale. Lawrence has led this initiative for six years and continues to work to ensure food security for all of RCPS students.
“We know the need is there,” said Lawrence. “So many of our kids really depend on our meals every school day. When school is out, it just puts them in a situation where there’s a need.”
School systems are able to continue this program because of the USDA Meal Reimbursement program.
“We are grateful,” said Lawrence. “The response so far has been overwhelming.”
In addition to sack meals, each bus is stocked with gloves and hand sanitizer for the workers to use. The buses will also be safely escorted by a Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office deputy.
Since Oatts’ decided to close schools, Gov. Kemp also signed an executive order Monday evening stating that all Georgia schools (elementary, secondary and post-secondary) will close from March 18-31.
Furthermore, meals will be delivered on weekdays over the school closure between 10:50 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. via RCPS school bus. Be sure to let the lunch bus know of any food allergies.
Meals must be picked up at one of the delivery locations (not at Heritage High or Salem High, where the meals are prepared) and must be picked up by the child or with a child present.
If you are the parent of a child with special needs and have concerns about accessing meals, please contact RCPS Nutrition at 770-860-4258.
Parents can view bus routes at https://bit.ly/2Uj3yPY.
From March 17-31, NCSS’ School Nutrition program will provide an opportunity for families to drive through and pick up free breakfast and lunch at five school sites throughout the district Monday through Friday, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
These sites include:
♦ Alcovy High, 14567 Ga. Highway 36.
♦ Newton High, 1 Ram Way.
♦ Veterans Memorial Middle, 13357 Brown Bridge Road
♦ West Newton Elementary, 13387 Brown Bridge Road
♦ Middle Ridge Elementary, 11649 Covington Bypass Road
NCSS is partnering with Action Ministries for delivery at the following sites:
Service starting Wednesday, March 18:
♦ Eagle Point Community, 12145 Ga. Highway 36
♦ Covington Housing Authority, 5160 Alcovy Road
♦ Nelson Heights Community Center, 7200 Lassiter St. SW
Service starting Monday, March 23:
♦ City of Porterdale Intersection of Main Street (Ga. Highway 81) and Hemlock Street.
Meals are for students only. Families can pick up meals for all children under the age of 18, or under the age of 21 for students with special needs. Children must be present for meals to be provided.
This program will be solely for the pick-up of meals, as meals cannot be consumed on site.
If a student currently receives a documented Special Diet Meal Accommodation through the School Nutrition program, please let NCSS know by contacting them at 770-788-3120.