Why It’s Newsworthy: COVID-19 has forced all schools in Georgia to move to online instruction for the rest of the semester. Bartow County and Cartersville City schools are still delivering food to students during the pandemic.
On March 16, Bartow County announced schools will be switching to online instruction for the foreseeable future. The switch posed a problem for students that rely on the free and reduced lunch program for food.
Cartersville Nutrition Director Christina Nichols said she is thankful to the distributors for getting the food to the school in a timely manner.
“They were able to shift really quickly and do a lot of individually wrapped stuff so that we can get a different variety of fruits and vegetables that we serve, and still meet those vegetable sub groups that are required by USDA,” Nichols said. “We’ve been able to send home jicama, edamame, stuff that’s not traditionally on our summer window or school menu.”
Proper Nutrition is Key
Both school systems are making sure they serve kids the essential five food groups in each meal. According to the USDA, those include a grain, protein, vegetables, fruits and a dairy source.
Nichols said kids in the Cartersville district typically receive a rotation of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, turkey sandwiches, small packs of edamame beans, fruits and milk. She said the biggest factor in having less variety was to ensure the food stays fresh.
Prior to April 13, Bartow County schools could only deliver their kids a snack and lunch. They did not have enough coolers to hold the milk cartons to serve students a complete breakfast. They were able to get more coolers after receiving the 2020 Special Alternative Feeding Grant from the Dairy Alliance on March 25.
Keeping Workers and Students Safe
While the food is being made, both school systems have made sure their service workers are following CDC guidelines for COVID-19. All workers wear gloves and masks, and they limit the number of people in one building to no more than 10.
“We have a lot of guidelines as far as food preparations, and we’re making sure that we are indeed following those guidelines as we continue to feed the kids in the community,” Bartow County Nutrition Director Oreal Oladele said.
Oladele and Nichols said they haven’t had a shortage of gloves during this time, and that the vendors are supplying the school with enough safety equipment for the workers.
Delivery Process of the Food
Both school systems have different ways of delivering the food to the kids.
Cartersville City schools deliver food on Monday and Thursday. On Monday, kids receive breakfast and lunch until Wednesday, and on Thursday they receive food until Friday. Kids also have the option of getting meals through the weekend if needed.
“We’ve been able to cut down on the amount of times food and packaging and all that has been touched by serving it on just those two days,” Nichols said.
“That cuts down on the possibility of spread. Serving on the bus stops, we’ve been able to limit the number of people on any given stop, so we can maintain all the social distancing.”
Cartersville City has three schools in its district, while Bartow County has 19 schools. With more students to feed, they are delivering food Monday through Friday. Bartow County delivers food on the weekend for kids through a program called Backpack Buddies. Counselors identified students from each school who would need the service.
Cross Point Church recently made a donation to Cartersville City schools to help provide food to kids during spring break.
Bus drivers are all equipped with gloves, masks and Lysol. No students have to sign up for the food delivery service as bus drivers will go through their normal stops.
“The students come to the bus stop, and the bus driver just reminds them to stay six feet apart than the other kids at the bus stop,” Nichols said. “We have volunteers that kind of lean out of the window to hand the food to the kids.”
Pickup Option for Students
Along with delivering, the county schools also set up four locations where families can do curbside pickup for their child’s food from 10-12:30 p.m. The four locations are Emerson, Cloverleaf, Adairsville and Hamilton elementary schools.
The map below shows how each of the four elementary schools cover all four corners of Bartow County. Click to interact.
Oladele’s biggest concern is making sure she meets the needs for all the kids she’s serving.
“I would just want to know that we are meeting all the needs out there,” Oladele said. “That we are indeed getting to the people that are the children that ultimately need the meals.”
Nichols and Oladele are both happy with the results of the program, and they hope to continue the momentum until the end of the year.
“Everyone in my district has been very supportive, the managers, food service assistants, everyone has had the willingness to help in getting things done, everyone knew that this was a new situation,” Oladele said. “It was unprecedented, and we had to be flexible as we developed our strategy and moved forward, so it was a challenge, but we got our brains together and we got it done.”
Yash Bhika is a senior majoring in journalism with a Sports Media Certificate in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.