Since schools took classes online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, classrooms have sat empty, and once-bustling hallways and raucous gymnasiums have been silent. But in many Western North Carolina school buildings, cafeteria kitchens have never been busier as districts stepped up to continue providing meals to students through the end of the calendar year, then transitioned to summer feeding programs tweaked to meet current needs.
“We have been running meals since schools closed in March,” says Ashley-Michelle Thublin, executive director of communications for Asheville City Schools. “The last day of the 2019-20 calendar was Friday, May 29, and we opened our summer meal sites Monday, June 1, so there was no lapse. It was a seamless transition.”
Likewise, Henderson County Public Schools’ last day of classes was technically Friday, June 5, and the district’s Summer Feeding Program kicked in Monday, June 8. “In the past couple of years, we ran our [U.S. Department of Agriculture] Summer Feeding Program from physical sites,” says Molly McGowan Gorsuch, public information officer for Henderson County Public Schools. “We also had a Meals on the Bus route to reach kids who could not get to a physical location due to transportation or safety issues over COVID-19, we moved pretty rapidly from one bus to three, and the numbers that we saw over the school closure will inform what we do over the summer.”
Those numbers are keeping school nutrition staff busy preparing, cooking and packaging student lunches and breakfasts for weekdays as well as packing extra meals on Fridays to cover weekends. Asheville City Schools expects to serve about 500 lunches and 500 breakfasts a day from its three prep sites — Asheville High School, Asheville Middle School and Isaac Dickson Elementary.
“We served over 50,000 meals while school buildings were shut down and are on target to serve over 90,000 this summer,” Thublin says. ACS distributes grab-and-go meals from 11:30 a.m-1:30 p.m. at Klondyke Apartments, Herb Watts Park and Hillcrest Apartments; from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. at Pisgah View Apartments; and from 1:15-1:45 p.m. at Crowell Apartments; plus a drive-thru pickup at Isaac Dickson Elementary from 1-3 p.m.
In Henderson County, Hendersonville Middle School and Apple Valley Middle School serve as meal prep and pickup sites, and there are three bus delivery routes run by district drivers. “We saw about 700 meals a day being prepared at those schools and expect to increase that by about 20% over the summer,” Gorsuch reports. (For more, visit avl.mx/79d.)
Buncombe County Schools began its summer meals program June 4, combining breakfast and lunch and with modifications to pickup locations. Friday meal packages include enough lunches and breakfasts to cover the weekend. All meals are free to any child younger than 18. (For more, visit avl.mx/79c.)