SCS provides update on meal delivery during coronavirus

Stanly County Schools’ daily meal delivery operations has been a huge boon for students who might otherwise not have reliable meals while schools are closed during the coronavirus pandemic.

On the first day the school system began distributing a warm lunch and nonperishable breakfast to students, March 16, SCS delivered 5,300 meals, the highest number in the state.

More than 43,000 meals were distributed during the first week, while the number surged to more than 51,000 for the second week, according to numbers posted on the school system’s website. SCS is also employing 400 people a day, including child nutritionists, bus drivers, teachers and teacher aids to prepare and deliver the meals. Superintendent Dr. Jeff James has even helped drive the bus.

Superintendent Dr. Jeff James drives the bus to deliver meal to students. (Picture provided by SCS)

The school system’s efforts to feed students has attracted national attention.

James made a late-night appearance Wednesday on CNN, talking with anchor Don Lemon about delivering meals to the thousands of students in the county out of school due to the coronavirus.

James told Lemon that any time schools close it “weighs heavily on school superintendents about how we feed students who would not otherwise get a meal unless it was through the school system.” The school system has approximately 8,400 students, with 62 percent of them receiving free or reduced lunch.

“We provide a whole lot more than just education,” James said.

He told Lemon his team had a “precursor meeting” March 13, before Cooper formally announced schools would close. They then had a meeting March 15, which lasted around eight hours. Schools across the state are currently closed through May 15.

James also discussed with Lemon the Here Comes the Bus app, which allows parents to track when the buses, which were all equipped with GPS last year, arrive to pick up their children. The school system can also send messages to parents through the app.

“It’s been a great tool for us to use for safety all the way around and of course it proved to be a great tool for making sure we’re feeding students,” he said.

James said CNN contacted him earlier in the week about three times to arrange the interview. His interview with Lemon, which is posted on SCS’s website, lasted for about three minutes.

“I thought it was a really good interview,” James said of his interaction with Lemon.

SCS has seen a decrease in the number of meals delivered this week, but that’s because it had to tweak its meal delivery operations to comply with the state’s social distancing guidelines. Beginning Tuesday, the school system moved from door-to-door bus delivery and eight drive-through sites to community bus stops and four drive-through sites.

The four drive-through sites are Albemarle Middle (bus parking lot), South Stanly Middle (bus parking lot), Badin Elementary (bus lot off Boyden Street) and Stanfield Elementary (car rider line). The drive-through sites will still operate from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. Monday through Friday, except for Spring Break (April 10-17).

For the community bus stop locations, buses will arrive at 11:30 a.m. each day and will be in the front parking lots at Richfield Elementary, Millingport Elementary, Oakboro Choice STEM, West Stanly High School, Norwood Elementary, Aquadale Elementary and Central Elementary School. Albemarle High community stop will be at the side parking lot. The community bus stops will operate Monday through Friday, except for Spring Break.

James said the school system is working with N.C. Rep. Wayne Sasser (R-Stanly) and County Commissioner Tommy Jordan to provide appropriate hand sanitizer and reusable masks to staff at the meal sites.

The school system convened a meeting Friday morning and announced it “will be monitoring staff availability while establishing a sustainable plan to best meet the needs of our community.” For the upcoming week, it will continue to conduct its current meal service plan.

“While we understand this has caused hardship for many, we must be mindful of our employees’ health and availability,” SCS posted on its website.

“Our people are going way beyond the call of duty,” James said, adding that teachers, counselors and social workers are reaching out to students on a weekly basis. “We’re not leaving kids alone.”

SCS plans to evaluate additional opportunities for meal services after the scheduled spring break week.

Contact reporter Chris Miller at 704-982-2122.