School breakfasts and lunches are critical to student health and well-being, especially for low-income students, and ensures that students have nutrition they need throughout the day to learn. Research has shown that receiving free or reduced-price school lunches reduces food insecurity, obesity rates, and poor health.

With that in mind, the Butts County School System is maintaining its food program even while schools are closed during the current COVID-19 pandemic, delivering close to 3,000 meals a week to 518 students.

According to Superintendent Dr. Todd Simpson, school staff are preparing breakfast and lunch for five days, and 10 school buses deliver the meals twice a week — on Mondays they deliver the meals for Mondays and Tuesdays, and on Wednesday they deliver the meals for Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

Simpson said that all things considered, the program is going pretty well.

“We package a breakfast and a lunch for two days on Monday, and on Wednesday we package for three days,” he said. “The purpose in doing that is to cut back on the time we have staff out doing it. We have 10 buses going out, and each bus has six or seven stops.

“What we’re trying to do is get out and cover the county as best as we can, and put the buses in proximity to where children are,” continued Simpson. “We’ve had a few calls requesting we come down a specific street and we’re continuing to reassess our routes to see if we need to adjust them at all. We’re open to doing that, but we just have to make sure people know that we’re not able to do a door-to-door delivery.

“We’re taking the routes out to areas that put us in the closest proximity to the most kids. We’re encouraging families to be creative and carpool over to the stop if it is a mile or two away from the house, and try to help each other out with getting the students to the stop.”

One part of the program the system did stop was providing meals to families who drove to the schools to pick them up.

“We discontinued the meal pick up and are delivering meals by bus only,” said Simpson. “Most of our meals that we were handing out are now out on the buses. Our school pick up had dwindled, and the other reason for not continuing that is to limit the amount of staff we have coming in.”

While the school system is used to providing meals at school during the school year, Simpson said the current meal deliver program is taxing the system, but that they will continue it as long as they can.

“We’re happy to do it and it’s helpful for us to get out and see kids,” said Simpson. “Educators and people who work in schools work there because they want to see children. So it is uplifting for our folks to be able to get out and interact with the kids in our community.

“We’re going to continue to try to maintain what we’re doing as long as we can, but we continue to assess the feasibility and the practicality of being able to do what we’re doing each day. Every two days we’re having a full-scale administrative meeting using video conferencing to assess where we are.”

The school system will get a break from the program during the scheduled week of spring break — April 6-10. Simpson said the school system is reimbursed for its meal expenses through the USDA only for the days that school is scheduled to be in session.

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