Schools seek county support for COVID-19 meal service during spring break

Buncombe County seal

While area schools may have closed their classrooms in response to the COVID-19 crisis, the buildings remain busy for another purpose: food distribution. Between the Buncombe County and Asheville school systems, approximately 12,000 meals are being provided daily to children ages 2-18, helping meet critical nutrition needs for kids whose families are under stress from the pandemic’s economic fallout.

On Tuesday, April 7, educators will ask the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners for nearly $87,000 in additional funding to ensure those meals keep flowing during the schools’ April 6-10 spring break. According to a staff report available before the meeting by Jennifer Barnette, the county’s budget director, the money would “cover a portion of the unbudgeted/unexpected salaries of personnel to maintain the continuity of this valuable service.”

Of the funding, $11,000 would go to Asheville City Schools, while the remainder would go to the county system. Barnette noted that approximately 265 employees would receive some of the new allocation, including school nutrition staff, bus drivers and teacher assistants. Specifics on meal distribution sites and times are available in the report.

In other business

The board will hold a public hearing on a $200,000 allocation of county money to the One Buncombe Fund, the creation of which commissioners unanimously approved during their March 24 special meeting. State law regarding economic development incentives prevented the board from designating the money without providing at least 10 days of notice prior to the hearing.

The fund is meant to provide rapid relief to individuals and businesses whose economic prospects have been damaged by COVID-19. Those who have lost jobs due to the pandemic can receive direct assistance for essential needs such as utilities and mortgages, while small business owners can apply for low-interest loans of up to $10,000.

As of April 2, according to the Citizen Times, approximately $700,000 had been pledged to One Buncombe, including the county’s planned allocation, a $200,000 challenge grant from The Ramble and Biltmore Lake charitable funds, $100,000 from the city of Asheville and $50,000 from the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority. According to the fund’s website, as of April 3, 216 individual donors had also committed over $50,000 in total.

Consent agenda

The board’s consent agenda for the meeting contains six items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Those items include minutes for board meetings on March 10, 17 and 24, service firearm awards for four retiring Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office deputies, routine fireworks display approvals and February’s monthly tax collection report.

The commission’s regularly scheduled pre-meeting at 3 p.m. has been canceled. Instead, the board will hold a budget work session at 4 p.m. The full meeting agenda and supporting documents for the regular meeting can be found at this link.

Due to COVID-19, no public attendance will be allowed at the board’s 200 College St. meeting location. The meetings will be livestreamed on the county’s Facebook page and through BCTV. Public comment (limit of 350 words) will be accepted through 5 p.m. on Monday, April 6, via email at comment@buncombecounty.org or voicemail at 828-250-6500.

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Green Scene editor and a reporter for Mountain Xpress. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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