School cafeteria employees, assisted by volunteers and some bus drivers, will begin serving lunches free to children and teens Monday at 15 school and mobile sites in Bulloch County. Free breakfasts will be served at six school sites.
Expanded from a five-week program last year, Bulloch County’s version of the Seamless Summer Nutrition Program will last seven weeks, from June 5 through July 21. School system officials say the USDA-funded program helps meet a need seen in Bulloch County’s 31 percent childhood poverty rate and in family situations social workers and counselors encounter.
This is the second consecutive year the local school system has participated in the program as administered by the USDA and the Georgia Department of Education.
“Last year we ran it through June, and I had a lot of people come to me saying that there was a need for both months, so we’re extending it through July 21,” said Bulloch County Schools Food Services Director Megan Blanchard.
The 2016 program, two weeks shorter and with fewer sites, served 11,486 lunches and 5,621 breakfasts.
The school system stands to be reimbursed $3.24 for each lunch and $2.04 for each breakfast.
“We still have to follow all of the guidelines that are in place for the National School Breakfast and National School Lunch programs,” Blanchard said.
Each lunch must contain meat or a meat alternative, grains, a vegetable, a fruit and milk. Meat alternatives are protein sources such as peanut butter and yogurt.
This summer’s lunches will alternate between hot meals and sandwich entrees served cold.
“It’s a good mixture,” Blanchard said. “We’re trying to expand it. Last year we did a lot more cold stuff, just trying to get our feet wet and figure it all out because last year was really the first year we had done it, and then this year we’re really expanding, especially our mobile sites.”
All the breakfasts will be of a cold, prepackaged type. These contain a single-serving cereal or toaster pastry, accompanied by a fruit item, juice and a graham cracker. Each child also receives a container of milk.
Both lunch and breakfast are open to Bulloch County residents from 1 to 18 years old, with no household wealth restrictions. All meals served are to be eaten on-site.
Homeless and hungry
The summer nutrition program is one of the school system’s efforts to address child hunger and homelessness, said Hayley Greene, the Bulloch County Schools’ public relations specialist.
“Here just in our school system, we serve over 100 children that are homeless,” Greene said. “Our school social workers work with those students on a daily basis to help match them with resources in the community and make sure they have what they need to still be successful. They do a lot behind the scenes, our social workers and our counselors.”
The statistic that more than 31 percent of Bulloch County children ages 1-17 live in households with incomes at or below the poverty line is from the University of Georgia's Initiative on Poverty and the Economy. Statewide, 24 percent of children in this age bracket were living in poverty, according to the same source.
Cafeterias at four schools – Brooklet Elementary, Julia P. Bryant Elementary, Portal Middle High and Statesboro Middle High – are slated to serve lunch and breakfast in both June and July. Mattie Lively Elementary and Sallie Zetterower Elementary will serve meals in June only. Additionally, “meals on wheels” mobile service will be provided to dining areas at nine remote sites, including mobile home parks, an apartment complex and a funeral home parking lot.
From 30 to 40 of the school system’s more than 100 food service workers will staff the program, Blanchard said. It is optional work, and this year was opened to school bus drivers.
The school system is seeking adult and teen volunteers from faith-based, civic and student organizations to help operate the additional mobile sites. For more information or to volunteer, call the school nutrition office at (912) 212-8620 or email Blanchard at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other area school systems have summer nutrition programs, but not all operate for as many weeks. The Evans County school system, in Claxton, operates a summer nutrition program June 5-30 with five sites.
Candler County’s program extends from June 5 to July 21 but will be closed the week of July 4. Meals will be served at 22 mobile sites, plus the Metter Pre-K-Eighth Grade School Complex.
“We’ve grown since I’ve been here in three years,” said Candler County School Nutrition Director Kerri Dennis. “We had 18 sites last year. We grew a little bit at the end of the season, so now we’re going to have more sites to continue serving those babies.”
She calls even high schoolers her babies to be fed, she explained. Special needs students enrolled in the school system can be eligible to age 24, Dennis said.
In Bulloch County, another effort to meet off-campus nutritional needs is the Backpack Buddies project, Greene noted. Fridays during the school year, the backpacks go home with almost 500 elementary school children identified by counselors and social workers.
Volunteers from more than a dozen local churches fill the packs with food items that children can handle themselves, from canned pasta-and-meat products such as Spaghetti O’s to fruit cups and vegetables with dip. For three years now, Altrusa Statesboro and the Ferst Foundation have added free books to the backpacks.
Information from the UGA Initiative on Poverty and the Economy was shared during a poverty simulation event the First District Regional Educational Service Agency, or RESA, conducted for the Bulloch County Schools and several other school systems in February. Bulloch’s principals, central office administrators, family coordinators, social workers and three Board of Education members participated.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.