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VIDEO BY WVStrong.org and Bobby Lee Messer
The coronavirus pandemic has shut down schools across the country which has led to one especially dire side effect. Many students rely upon school meals as a key source of daily nutrition.
But school boards and food service workers have stepped into that breach in counties across West Virginia. Thousands of meals are being prepped by school workers daily and driven by bus to keep children fed, often stopping by the side of the road in rural West Virginia.
“We feel it’s necessary to feed the kids so we know that they’re fed and taken care of,” says Cabell County food service employee Mary Cook, one of scores of West Virginians looking out for the state’s school children.
The Cabell County school system preps meals for 38 sites in the county, from schools like Highlawn Elementary to the Fairfield East Community Center and Marcum Terrace housing complex.
In some rural communities, the buses stop and hand out food on the side of the road, said Rhonda McCoy, Food Service Director for the Cabell County Board of Education.
“Some of those are areas where we’re gonna stop by the side of the road and deliver meals for students to eat during this time when meals might not be available,” said McCoy.
The feeding program has caused some logistical headaches from gathering up all the food from closed schools that might otherwise go to waste, she said.
“This has caused us to have an overload. We’re working to reorganize to get it to fit and everything is safe for the students.”
Cabell County schools bus driver Kevin Lusk has been driving the meals all across the county.
“There are needs all over the county. I was on the cheese program back in the day. I had young daughters. It’s hard for young couples and families. Hopefully, this will help them make ends meet and everybody gets something to eat and no-one goes hungry.”
For food service workers, feeding kids and families is a way to make a difference in difficult times.
“It makes me feel good to be able to do something for the kids, instead of just sitting at the school not doing anything or sitting at home,” said Jana Casey, as she loaded coolers with bag lunch that included a ham and cheese sandwich, apples, carrots, pretzels, and zucchini bread. “[It’s] actually doing something that means something.”
Mark Cook has worked in food service for the Cabell Board of Education for 30 years. “So, I’ve watched a lot of these kids grow up.”
“A lot of the kids don’t get meals—we even provide suppers during the regular school season because all of the meals they don’t get at home. We feel it’s necessary to feed the kids so that we know that they’re fed and taken care go.”
Robin Ramey, principal at Milton Elementary, says there is a lot of anxiousness caused by the pandemic.
“There’s a lot of apprehension, a lot of nervousness. This is something new to all of us. We’ve never dealt with something like this before, so I think everybody’s a little on edge and cautious,” she said.
Teachers and staff and are residents are stepping up to the plate, Ramey said.
“I think our whole community’s doing a great job of coming together and making sure that everybody’s needs are met. And checking in on people, checking in on students and parents. And so I think there’s a good cooperative spirit.”
This article was produced by WVStrong.org, which publishes stories about West Virginians and the state’s political leaders. WVStrong.org is funded through the American Center, a 501(c)4 nonprofit organization.