Cotton said the project originally started with 21 sites, but by Thursday expanded to 28 sites and served more than 1,400 children. With the large number of people being served, Cotton said maintaining social distancing was an imperative part of the project’s organization.
“We are out there in 28 sites, so it’s not a mass gathering, that’s the whole point," she said. "We couldn’t bring all the kids or their parents together to pick up the food. We have to go out there so we are in smaller groups making this happen.”
Each of these sites supplies a child with breakfast, lunch and a snack. Susan Warwhick, a volunteer, said the food is packaged and prepared through school cafeterias then loaded onto yellow school buses that shuttle the food to neighborhoods where the food is distributed.
She said the food is made in the Northside Elementary School and McDougle Elementary School kitchens and then sent out to various sites within the community. She said each volunteer team unloads the food on a bus, which symbolizes the food’s arrival each day and provides a familiar sight to students.
“Our bus team has actually two employees who are both bus drivers and one who is a school bus monitor, so they know the routes very well and they know some of the kids," she said.
Debbie Horwitz, one of the co-founders of PORCH, said the project has been overseen by Liz Cartano, the director of dining for the school district, who makes sure the meals had nutritional value.
Horwitz also said volunteers are taking social distancing extremely seriously.
“We are literally on-site packing at tables 6 feet apart, we’re on site as we distribute," she said. "We put the lunch down, we step away, and the child picks it up, so that we can hopefully safely maintain our distance and continue to distribute the food."
The initiative has provided connection in a time of social isolation. Warwhick said the initiative started by going door to door, but now community members wait for the yellow bus and are really enthusiastic about the initiative.
“I’m going into communities I didn’t even know existed, which is embarrassing given how long I have lived here, but we’re meeting people in those communities, we are talking to them,” she said.
Cotton said the community has rallied around the cause and helped to make sure that the project had enough volunteers and money.
“We don’t know how long this is going to last, we don’t know how much is going to be reimbursable, but we don’t want to stop supporting the kids,” she said. “So we are asking the community to rally behind us, and they have come out in droves.”
Nash said the future time frame for school closures remains unclear and that volunteers and funds could be needed into the future. He said although he expects most of the costs of the program to be reimbursed by state and national governments, there are aspects of the program that might not be covered.
Horwitz said the snacks provided to each child are not reimbursed by the government.
"Just this week alone the cost for snacks will be $6,000," she said. "So the church community and others who are contributing through churches and through the public school foundation are trying to raise money to make sure that those costs that are not covered by the federal feeding programs will be covered by community members.”
Despite the uncertainty, Nash and Horwitz said they remain confident for the future of this project and the community’s continual support. Horwitz said the community knows the importance of this project.
“We recognize this food is essential,” she said. “Community members are not going to let this fall apart.”
To donate or volunteer to support this program, you can visit the Public School Foundation's website or sign up here.
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