Struggling families in Johnston County lost a key resource just as the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be peaking.
Johnston County Public Schools announced it’s suspending its meal and delivery services starting Wednesday. The school system provided lunch and breakfast to children 18 and under free of cost during the week amidst the current coronavirus-induced statewide classroom shutdown.
School sites offered a curbside grab-and-go service Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. where families could pick up food donations for students stuck at home. Many students, who rely on schools for a large part of their daily diet, lost access to a key source of meals when campuses shuttered last month.
Citing public health concerns, the district elected to suspend the service until at least April 17 as administrators determine what steps to take next. The decision also included area delivery locations.
“Beginning Wednesday, April 8, we will temporarily suspend service at our 13 school food service sites and each of our meal delivery locations,” Nathanael Shelton, JCPS executive director of communications, said. “This difficult decision was made to protect the health and safety of the students, their families and our staff, and to provide the school nutrition department time to replenish supplies and train staff on additional safety protocols.”
JCPS added multi-day meal bags and information regarding food resources from other community partners to Tuesday’s final donations for the next few weeks.
“At this time, the last day of service will be Tuesday, April 7,” said Shelton. “After Spring Break, which ends April 17, all factors will be reevaluated and meal services may resume, if feasible.”
Harnett County Schools also implemented a meals service as a way to supplement student nutrition during the shutdown. The district, on March 23, started providing lunch and breakfast at six school sites across Harnett County, and added another location, Lillington-Shawtown Elementary, on April 1. The child nutrition staff developed a similar “grab-and-go” pickup for families that is available Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Jennifer Layn, HCS child nutrition director, indicated her program will proceed as planned.
“We are planning on feeding as long as we can,” said Layn. “We know that our students need meals.”
Harnett County Schools, however, announced it will not be providing meals on Good Friday due to the Easter holiday. HCS spokeswoman Natalie Ferrell said the school system is prepared to continue the service for the foreseeable future.
“At this point, we have adequate supplies and are able to meet the demand for our county,” Ferrell said. “Our Child Nutrition Department is in need of grocery bags. If any company would like to donate, that will be great. We have received grocery bag donations from Walmart, Food Lion, Auto Zone, and IGA.”
Ferrell asked anyone willing to give donations to call 910-893-8151 ext. 414.
Sampson County implemented its own meals service at four school sites, which provide food Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Eliot Duke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 910-230-2038.