Carroll County Public Schools began providing free meal pickup to anyone under 18 the same day schools closed to in-person teaching, March 16. The initial seven sites have expanded to three more since then and Food Services has partnered with Transportation to begin delivering meals by bus, starting with Taneytown.
Additional emergency feeding sites were added at Elmer Wolfe Elementary in Union Bridge followed by East Middle in Westminster and Spring Garden Elementary in Hampstead on Tuesday, April 14.
The bus delivery routes also started Tuesday for areas more than one mile from the meal distribution site at Taneytown Elementary School. That area has the highest number of students who participate in the free and reduced price meals (FARM) program, said CCPS Food Services Supervisor Karen Sarno.
A staff member from Food Services rides on each bus with the driver to distribute meals at bus stops along routes Transportation Services developed. Sarno said she hopes it will take hold once people have confidence that the bus will show up consistently.
Going forward they’re working to expand to additional sites in Mount Airy and Eldersburg, but don’t have firm opening dates yet, Sarno said.
Thursday, April 9, was the biggest distribution day for the program so far, as CCPS provided multiple days worth of meals to children to hold them over the holiday weekend while schools (and food distribution) were closed Friday and Monday.
“We distributed 34,146 meals. Prior to that we were distributing somewhere between 4,000-6,200 meals per day,” Sarno said, noting that, starting Tuesday, they have been distributing between 7,000 and 8,000 meals per day, returning to the regular one-day meal distribution model after the long weekend.
“It’s great,” Sarno said. “I think we’re meeting a need in our community.”
She said the food services staff has been “incredible” coming in to work motivated and following safety precautions.
“It’s still their kids that they see coming down the line,” she said.
She addressed a rumor that some meal distribution sites may be in danger of closing because not enough families are using them, saying that is not the case.
The distribution is funded through the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program. Despite its name, the program can also be deployed to provide meals in times when school is closed for emergencies, such as a tornado aftermath, or now in the coronavirus pandemic. While there is the possibility an emergency feeding site could close if it drew only very small numbers, that is not a concern in Carroll.
“We don’t have any sites that are anywhere in danger of being shut down,” Sarno said.
For some sites they have even purchased more equipment like a mobile refrigerator unit to hold cartons of milk.
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Some of the newer sites have been able to open after the USDA relaxed some requirements for where an emergency feeding site could be based on FARM and census data. The understanding is that the economic effects of the shutdown are also hitting families that don’t traditionally have those challenges, Sarno said.
Food Services communicates with school administrators and Pupil Personnel Workers about areas that need services. Then it takes a little time t get that site set up with staff, food supply and training before it can open.
“Overall people have been just very nice,” Sarno said.
She hopes the meals can give kids “a little normalcy that’s missing in their day” and noted that some of the sweetest moments have been hearing kids get excited when their parents pass meals to them and they immediately want to look through and see what they’ve gotten that day.
When people ask if they can donate to the meals program, she encourages them to donate to a local food pantry or other organizations. CCPS is part of a federal program with funding, and some other places don’t have as much guarantee. The meal program is also for those 18 and under, so local food pantries can help feed other members of a family.