While the coronavirus pandemic has affected American life in many obvious ways with travel bans, social distancing and business closures, it’s also beginning to have unanticipated effects on many other aspects of society.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, Western North Carolina already had higher rates of poverty and food insecurity than much of the state and the nation. When Gov. Roy Cooper ordered the state’s public schools closed beginning this week, educators like Junaluska Elementary School Principal Alex Masciarelli saw another problem on the horizon. “We have kids that have breakfast and lunch here at school and not having that to rely on with something that folks are really just nervous about, like what are our kids going to do?”
Haywood County Schools serves more than 7,000 students, so administrators made the decision to begin providing curbside to-go meals at nine local schools. “Monday we had 206 meals passed out to folks, many of them were our students coming through to pick up instructional materials, but then many of them, they said, can we just pick up meals and you know, that they're here to just get food to feed their kids and we're just glad we're able to provide that.”
By the end of the second day, they had distributed more than 2,200. “So yesterday we had a chicken sandwiches with salad, juice, there was a piece of fruit and then of course milk. And then in the breakfast to-go bag that also had some cereal and milk and another piece of fruit.”
Those were handed out by a combination of volunteers and school workers, like cafeteria manager Jenifer Rogers. “This is this a great program and we're here for the kids. You know, we feed them every day. We love them every day. I think we're one of the few people that see them – every single kid in the school every single day. We know them by name.”
Haywood County Schools nutrition supervisor and dietician Chelsea Williams said the effort was not only nourishment for the body, but also for the soul. “These children, this may be the only meal that they receive throughout the week, which is absolutely heartbreaking so we want to make sure to provide those meals for the students and also you have to think about like Jennifer mentioned that these children, this may be the only smaller hug that they see.
Children under 18 need not be a student at Haywood’s public schools to pick up meals.