WATAUGA — Starting in June, Watauga County Schools will start to modify how it distributes meals to children during the summer months.
The school system has distributed meals to children 18 years old and younger since March 17 — excluding the week students were on spring break in which they were given extra meals ahead of time. During that time, school officials have said they would continue the meal distribution as long as funding allowed.
School officials stated on May 19 that they hope to continue with the meal program through the end of July. WCS plans to move to a Monday through Thursday meal program starting June 1 at all current sites — five breakfast/lunch locations and two dinner locations. This will change starting June 15, when WCS will reduce kitchen operations and curbside service to five sites while continuing all of the bus deliveries.
“These changes are intended to ensure that we have the staff to continue this hard work through the summer,” said Superintendent Scott Elliott. “We will make sure that any child who needs food still has access to it.”
During the May 14 meeting of the Watauga County Board of Commissioners budget work session, WCS Assistant Superintendent and Human Resources Director Stephen Martin mentioned how many meals the school system produced before COVID-19. Prior to the last day of in-person instruction on March 13, Martin said WCS was serving 2,500 to 2,600 breakfasts and lunch meals a day. The school system is currently averaging 4,000 of these meals a day.
“We are serving meals to a number of families whose children might not ordinarily eat a school lunch or breakfast,” Elliott said. “We are also serving dinner at two of our sites — a meal that ... isn’t served during a normal school year.”
Elliott mentioned that the increase in meals is also due in part to some families whose employment and income have been affected by COVID-19, and who are are relying more on school cafeterias than they might under ordinary circumstances. Additionally, WCS is not just serving meals to children who are enrolled in Watauga County Schools. The meals are available to children who are not yet school age, and to children from private schools, home schools and charter schools.
“We are very proud that our public school system is serving the entire community during this time of need,” Elliott said.
Elliott said school officials are tracking meal participation numbers daily to ensure that WCS can plan accordingly. Some meal distribution locations have experienced increased participation and other locations have had reduced participation.
AS of mid-day on May 19, WCS had served more than 165,000 meals. But officials have noticed that as the pandemic has progressed, there’s been a downturn in numbers at some of the sites. Elliott said officials think that the recent Pandemic Electronic Benefits (P-EBT) adopted by the state are providing the most impacted local families with more options for providing adequate nutrition. The P-EBT benefits those families whose children have access to free and reduced lunch at school.
Elliott said the hope is to keep as many of the meal sites open as possible as operations move into the summer. With meal delivery and adjusting meal preparation at other sites, WCS wants to continue to feed as many children as they are able.
“To keep the sites staffed and able to serve as many families as possible, it is likely that we will need to consolidate the sites so we can continue to operate,” Elliott said. “Our child nutrition staff has been working overtime since the start of the pandemic and most are 10-month employees. There are some of them, who for many reasons, will not be able to work a full 12-month schedule over the summer.”
Elliott said school officials will constantly monitor meal data and reassess needs during the summer.
He added that the state is paying school systems a higher reimbursement rate than is typically paid during the school year for the child nutrition program. The high reimbursement has basically allowed the program to continue to operate — otherwise the school system would not be able to afford it, he said.
The greatest assistance from the state that WCS is receiving is the state’s recent approval of the continued use of yellow buses to deliver meals by using state transportation funds that had been allocated for student transportation.
“We could not have afforded to operate the buses using local funds, so this is greatly appreciated,” Elliott said.
The local faith community hosted a meeting on May 7 to discuss summer food operations as well. A group of local churches and other organizations began food box pickup sites in mid-March, and plan to continue doing so into the summer, according to Hardin Park social worker Denise Presnell.
Food can be picked up from the following locations:
- Alliance Bible Fellowship, located at 1035 N.C 105 Bypass, Boone, is opening a food pantry on Mondays from 3-5 p.m. The program is for N.C. residents only, one box per month per family/house.
- Boone United Methodist Church, located at 471 New Market Blvd., Boone, will have to-go meals and food boxes on Thursdays from 5-6:30 p.m.
- Blowing Rock C.A.R.E.S. at Rumple Memorial, located at 1218 Main St., Blowing Rock, will have its food pantry open 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Mondays. For more information about Rumple Memorial in Blowing Rock, email email@example.com.
- Casting Bread Food Pantry, located at 194 Aho Road, Blowing Rock, is open Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. for drive-thru food pickup.
- First Presbyterian Church, located at 131 Big Valley St., Boone, is offering food boxes on Friday from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
- Greenway Baptist Church, located at 880 Greenway Road, Boone, is offering food boxes on Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
- Hardin Park School, located at 361 Jefferson Road, Boone, is offering food boxes from 1-3 p.m. on Thursdays.
- Hospitality House of Northwest North Carolina, located at 338 Brook Hollow Road, Boone, is serving meals three times a day (6:30-8:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5:30-6:30 p.m.). In addition, the food pantry is open seven days a week (11 a.m.-4 p.m.) with a limit of two pickups a month.
- Hunger and Health Coalition, located at 141 Health Center Drive, Boone, is offering curb-side service from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Fresh produce and other perishables and to go meals once a week. Families can get food boxes twice a month.
- Mount Vernon Baptist Church, located at 3505 Bamboo Road, Boone, is offering food boxes. Call (828) 266-9700 for details.
- Parkway Elementary School, located at 160 Parkway School Drive, Boone, has food boxes from 1-3 p.m. on Tuesdays.
- theHeart Church is offering food boxes on Wednesdays from 1-4 p.m.
- The Rock, located at 215 Boone Heights Drive, Unit 301, Boone, offering food boxes and school supplies from 1-4 p.m. on Wednesdays and Sundays.
- Western Watauga Food Outreach is operating it’s Thursday 4-6 p.m. food bag distribution at Henson’s Chapel United Methodist Church at 120 Henson Hollar Road, Vilas.