ALBEMARLE — With students still adjusting to closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a free meal delivery program provided by Stanly County Schools has added stability to students’ lives by continuing to provide the nutrition they had relied on.
SCS began its new meal program on March 16 and has steadily added to its mission of providing a hot lunch and breakfast to every Stanly student 18 years or younger, including homeschoolers and private school students.
In its first week enacting its bus delivery program, SCS delivered 43,688 meals: 5,300 meals were dropped off that Monday, 8,376 on Tuesday, 9,908 on Wednesday, 9,978 meals on Thursday, and 10,126 on Friday.
The meals are delivered Monday through Friday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. at the normally scheduled stops.
From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., drive-through locations are also available at the eight schools that are deploying buses: Albemarle High, Albemarle Middle, South Stanly Middle, East Albemarle Elementary, Badin Elementary, Central Elementary, Norwood Elementary and Stanfield Elementary.
Last Wednesday, SCS Superintendent Dr. Jeff James served as one of five bus drivers operating out of Albemarle Middle School, in addition to 20 staff members in the cafeteria helping with cooking and ten bus monitors tasked with handing out the food.
James told SCJ that he’s proud of how quickly his district stepped up to the job of providing so many meals for students. So far, around 140 people have been involved with the meal delivery system each day.
“We hope to keep delivering meals with other people and that the central office will be hopping on to help,” said James, who mentioned that custodians, teachers, and guidance counselors have all assisted in what has become a large community project.
“We’re putting together a matrix now to be able to rotate people through so we can continue to feed. I’m sure that’s one of the reasons why the governor has been reluctant to close schools completely. There are hundreds of thousands of students in the state who are dependent on us for a meal.”
According to James, many community volunteers and churches have reached out wanting to help with the meal program, but SCS has continued to comply with USDA guidelines.
“If they come pick the food up, that’s one thing. But if we take it to them, then everyone that touches the food has to be trained,” James said. “We’re reaching out and saying that if you tell us how many meals you need and pick it up, then we don’t have to train you. Then you may reach kids who normally have not eaten.”
Normally, about 60% of the 8,400 enrolled SCS students are recipients of free or reduced lunch, and all students within Albemarle city limits receive free meals during the school year.
During this new program, SCS students have each received a daily milk carton, lunch trays containing items such as barbecue sandwiches, chicken sandwiches, chicken nuggets and hot dogs, as well as breakfast bags of nonperishable foods like Pop-Tarts and fruit bars.
“So far, so good — we’ve served a lot of kids,” said Albemarle Middle School Principal Chris Jonassen. “The first day, we realized that we needed a lot more staff to prep because the buses didn’t leave until almost 11 a.m. We had to make extra food in the cafeteria, so we’ve had a lot of staff members help with meal prepping since then. We’re making 500-plus meals and we have an assembly line going.”
Just like with bus pickups and drop-offs to class, students and parents are able to receive notifications for the meal bus stops via the “Here Comes the Bus” app.