School System Providing 7,300-Plus Meals A Week

School System Providing 7,300-Plus Meals A Week
Cafeteria workers are pictured preparing meals to be distributed at Pocomoke Middle School. Photo by Charlene Sharpe

SNOW HILL –   While schools might not be filled with teachers or students, skeleton crews are staffing some of their kitchens to make sure kids in need have access to food.

When schools closed in mid-March to stop the spread of COVID-19, an immediate concern for local educators was what that closure would mean for students who rely on the free and reduced meals they get at school. Worcester County Public Schools quickly launched a meal program to ensure that access to food continued even as schools remained closed.

“We want to make sure when school isn’t in session kids stay healthy and have something to eat,” said Worcester County Commissioner Josh Nordstrom, who volunteers at the Pocomoke meal distribution site. “I’m proud to be a part of it.”

Last week, the school system served more than 7,300 meals at its distribution sites, which are typically open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Meals are served at Bay Terrace Garden in Berlin, Buckingham Elementary School, Snow Hill Elementary School, Ebenezer Church in Snow Hill, Windy Gardens in Pocomoke, St. Paul’s by-the-Sea in Ocean City and Pocomoke Middle School.

Nordstrom, who represents the southern part of the county, said the meals in Pocomoke were critical because so many students there lived in poverty.

“It means so much to the people here,” he said.

On a typical meal distribution day at Pocomoke Middle, kitchen staff report at 6 a.m. to begin prepping meals. On Wednesday, they packed up 230 lunches—a chicken sandwich, macaroni and cheese, kale and a snack—for volunteers to roll out to the parking lot. All parents had to do was drive up to the curb and say how many lunches they needed.

“It’s fantastic,” said Melissa Freistat, assistant principal at Pocomoke Middle. “Many of our students depend on school for breakfast and lunch.”

As parents pick up lunches, they’re also offered bags of canned goods, fruit cups and granola bars. Thanks to the support of the Maryland Food Bank, the school is able to maintain a pantry of staples to provide to families in need.

While many parents come to the school to pick up lunches for their kids, not all have transportation. Nicole Selby, coordinator of student, family and community connections, delivers meals to students who come from families in transition — those who are homeless or lack transportation. She says those delivery trips also serve to help her identify other children who might lack access to food.

“We’re able to identify students just by being out in the community,” she said.

Though the canned goods and snacks are provided by the Maryland Food Bank or through local donations, the school system is providing the meals being distributed. According to Vince Tolbert, the school system’s chief financial officer, those are being distributed through the USDA Summer Meals Program and costs are being monitored.

“They are eligible to be submitted for reimbursement under this program,” Tolbert said. “Our Worcester County Commissioners also provided $50,000 in funding in support of providing meals to our students in need. We are currently monitoring and reviewing other potential federal revenue sources that are included in the recently passed CARES Act. All revenue/costs are being recorded in our food service fund.”

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.