LLOYD Two days a week, buses rumble out of Greenup County High School, their seats occupied by boxes and bags rather than children.
The containers are loaded with food and destined for hungry kids, kids who normally would be in school and who would eat there.
The buses wind through the district, penetrating to the remotest hollows, making as many stops as it takes to hand out the food to waiting parents.
Like other public school districts across the state, Greenup County has struggled to find ways of providing non-academic services for kids during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was hard enough to develop effective virtual learning programs, but at least those can be conducted online.
But absent a Star Trek transporter to deliver food through thin air, schools have to find ways to get food to kids using the resources they have.
In Greenup County, it is a unified effort of cafeteria workers, bus drivers, monitors and administrators, who team up to make and deliver the meals.
The deliveries go out on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Cafeteria workers prepare and package the food the day before and the morning of the deliveries. Greenup County, and most other districts in Northeast Kentucky, are on a plan under which all children are eligible for free breakfast and lunch, so each child gets breakfasts and lunches to last until the next delivery, according to district business manager Rebecca Fyffe. For instance, on Tuesday, a child’s delivery would include lunch for that day, breakfast and lunch for Wednesday and Thursday, and breakfast for Friday.
The meals meet federal nutritional guidelines and their components are chosen to be kid-friendly, easy to prepare and to last until the next delivery. Breakfast might be as simple as min-pancakes accompanied, as are all meals, by fruit and milk. A lunch might be chicken strips, cheese, lettuce and tostitos with which to assemble an easy chicken salad.
Some of the materials need refrigeration and everything is packaged to make doing so convenient.
The crew for each delivery bus includes a driver, monitor and cafeteria worker. The deliveries are particularly challenging for cafeteria workers, who are unaccustomed to big yellow buses negotiating rough rural roads. “It’s an adventure for us. Some of us are on roads we’ve never been on before,” said cook Sherri Croston. “I have a new appreciation for our bus driver. She owned that thing. She put it in spots I didn’t think I could put my little car, and she was very smooth.”
Delivering the meals puts her face to face with appreciative parents, and from that the workers gain a fresh sense of their duty. “They are very appreciative and it makes us feel good. We take feeding our kids very seriously. When they’re not getting fed, it’s stressful for us,” Crosten said.
The bi-weekly deliveries take 21 buses — about half the fleet, according to Fyffe, That has put the district’s bus drivers back to work, transportation director Tom Crump said.
The buses don’t follow regular routes but make deliveries to homes and their routes extend to the fringes of the county. “They’re going as far as the Carter County line and the Boyd County line,” Fyffe said.
The district made out its initial list of children needing meals via an online survey, Fyffe said. “We needed to insure we are getting food to those who have transportation issues or who are food insecure,” she said. So far about half the student population is signed up — roughly 1,300 kids, she said.
Kentucky schools recently were granted a waiver by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to extend the summer meal program through December under loosened regulations.
Summer meal program ordinarily require the meals to be served at specified sites. The waiver changes that to allow deliveries.
That means the district can offer the meals to all children in its boundaries, not just students but any child up to 18 years old.
Proper nutrition is as important for virtual education as it is when kids are in school, according to Fyffe. “We know they need to be fed. You can’t learn if you’re hungry,” she said.