Launched during the COVID-19 spring shutdown, the Bulloch County Schools’ effort to provide U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded bagged lunches and breakfasts free to all children who show up will continue until July 31 under the latest extension of waivers.
With a long-established annual summer meal program now stretched from eight weeks to 10 following with the unprecedented 10-week spring emergency effort, the school system will have provided meals to children outside of ordinary school settings for 20 weeks this calendar year.
“When we were originally going to end on July 17th, we would have served approximately 344,600 meals,” said Hayley Greene, the school system’s public relations director. “So, adding those two additional weeks, we’re going to be well over 360,000 meals served. Through the 17th, it would have been an 18-week program. Now it’s going to be a 20-week program.”
Those totals of individual meals count each bag distributed to a child as two meals – a lunch and a breakfast – so the number of meal bags is half that many.
Before May 22, the original last day of classes on the 2019-20 school calendar, the number of two-meal bags distributed daily ranged from about 2,500 to as high as 2,975, Greene said. That peak number of children served, 2,975, was reached May 7.
Since May 22, the number of bags distributed each day has ranged from about 2,400 to 2,600, she said.
The 10-week, Monday through Friday, spring emergency program started March 17 under rule waivers the Georgia Department of Education obtained from the USDA to allow school breakfast and lunch funds to be used for bagged meals distributed free. From more than 70 distribution sites in Bulloch County, children from infancy up to age 18 have been allowed to take meals away to eat without regard to whether their families would ordinarily qualify for free or reduced-price school meals.
The children served don’t even have to be students in the school district.
The 71 current distribution sites and their varied delivery times are listed at www.bulloch.k12.ga.us. Click on the “Free meals for any children…” item in the red “News Alert” block.
A similar USDA-backed effort, the Summer Food Service Program, has long operated here for up to two months during summer break. Nationwide emergency guidance issued by the USDA allowed Bulloch County’s expansion of the number of sites to continue with the summer program.
The latest waiver, extending the summer effort to July 31, was issued to school systems throughout Georgia.
In addition to school food service employees, the Bulloch County Schools transportation department has been involved from the first, with bus drivers transporting meal bags to the distribution sites in school buses. Some faculty members have helped as volunteers. School social workers identified sites and have also distributed meals to children in “housing displaced,” or homeless, families, Greene said.
Meanwhile, the Bulloch County Board of Education last week postponed the first day of school from Aug. 3 to Aug. 17. Parents can choose a virtual, at-home option for their children’s schooling this year, but traditional, face-to-face school is also planned to start Aug. 17, when school cafeterias will be serving regular breakfasts and lunches.
So a two-week gap now exists from the end of the summer feeding program, July 31, to the first day of school. In fact, a two-week gap was already expected to occur, but two weeks sooner.
School system staff members have been talking to Bulloch County VOAD, the local Volunteer Organization Active in Disaster, since May about working with Feeding America, the national food bank network of which America’s Second Harvest of Coastal Georgia, in Savannah, is part, to arrange a special “food drop” to help fill the gap, Greene said.
“We knew already from children that we serve, the families that we serve, that food insecurity is pretty high in Bulloch County,” she said. “So being able to partner with Bulloch VOAD and Feeding America can help supplement the food supply for our community.”
As of last school year, almost 61% of all Bulloch County Schools students qualified, because of their families’ limited financial resources, for free or reduced-price school lunches. At two schools, Langston Chapel Elementary and Langston Chapel Middle, more than 90% of students qualified.
Bulloch VOAD, which coordinates and publicizes efforts involving other volunteer and charitable organizations, has the Statesboro Kiwanis Club sponsoring an unusually large Aug. 8 drive-through emergency food drop, supplied by Second Harvest and Feeding America at Julia P. Bryant Elementary School, 421 West Main St.
Two tractor-trailer loads of food, enough for 1,000 families of up to four people each to prepare at home for a week, are scheduled for distribution beginning at 9:30 a.m. that day, said Bulloch VOAD volunteer manager DeWayne Grice.
“It will be following full COVID compliance, using a drive-through pickup zone,” he said. “It will be pre-boxed food that volunteers will just set in the trunk of their car, and they won’t leave their car.”
Other food drops
That food distribution is one of several planned in Bulloch County before the start of the school year.
- · City of David Worship Assembly, 222 Institute St., is hosting a Second Harvest emergency food distribution this Thursday, July 16, beginning at 10 a.m.
- · Christian Social Ministries, 31 North Zetterower Avenue, holds food distributions Mondays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- · Portal City Hall will be the site of another Second Harvest emergency food drop, Monday, July 27, beginning at 10 a.m.
- · Statesboro First United Methodist Church, 101 South Main St., offers a public soup kitchen Saturdays from noon to 1 p.m., with pickup only at the rear of the church.
VOAD also lists other ongoing efforts, including those of the Statesboro Food Bank, Compassion Christian Church, Eastern Heights Baptist Church and Friendship Baptist Church. See http://bullochcountyvoad.org and scroll down for “Food Assistance” and “Food Pantries.”
“I think with what we’ve got in place we can bridge that gap for a few weeks,” Grice said. “Our whole focus with this large food drop is just that. It’s to keep the community from overrunning the local food banks. … But we’ll still rely on them pretty heavily, and those resources are available.”