OAK HILL — The effort to feed school children during the COVID-19 pandemic is a labor-intensive and time-consuming one, but those involved in the process know it's vital.
"It's very important," said Lee Jones, principal of New River Primary School. "It's something that we feel like we need to do.
"With the environment we live in, the time that we live in, it's more so now than it was before. We had some problems with the opioid epidemic and those kind of things, but now that people have lost their jobs, the need's even greater than it was before."
Jones was among the numerous people on the Oak Hill school campus on Thursday, April 2 who were hard at work preparing and handing out meals for students as West Virginia schools remain closed until at least April 30.
While the effort continues, Jones said concerns also remain about the health and well-being of school employees, health care workers and others who serve the public.
According to Joe Dooley, the child nutrition director for Fayette County Schools, the following information was recently given to all parents and guardians of children in the Fayette County Schools system:
"As the Tuesday, March 31 evening message to all staff, parents and guardians indicated, meal distribution will occur at all six distribution schools every Thursday from 11 a.m. through 1 p.m." That will include April 9, the week of spring break.
Following are distribution sites at which parents or guardians are receiving bagged meals for a week, including breakfast and lunch, for each child:
• Oak Hill Middle School
• New River Primary
• Fayetteville PK-8
• Midland Trail High
• Meadow Bridge Elementary
• Valley PK-8
"All of us are in shock, but we want to make sure we feed the kids," said Dooley. "We try our best every week as long as the federal government (allows)."
"Fortunately, we haven't run out of food yet," he added. The continued availability of food will "depend on the vendors and the demand," he said.
Menus for some days have had to be adjusted depending on availability of certain items.
The sites have cooks and other staff volunteers to hand out the meals for students when parents drive in. Dooley says food delivery is handled in a sanitary fashion according to established guidelines.
It is a totally volunteer undertaking, he said. Dooley praised the work of all involved, including his secretary, Tressa Critchley, whom he said has been invaluable. Dooley says he's "extremely impressed" with the support and dedication of the volunteers county-wide.
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In an April 3 news release, West Virginia Superintendent of Schools W. Clayton Burch announced that more than one million meals have been provided to West Virginia children during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
When Gov. Jim Justice announced the school closure last month, he directed that children who depend on school meals must continue to be fed. To that end, the West Virginia Department of Education began working with counties to support their efforts to distribute meals. As the pandemic evolved, so have WVDE and county efforts to support children. Efforts have transitioned from a triage model to a sustainable approach to provide for children's nutritional and academic needs, according to the release.
"Over a million meals have now been served to our children during this crisis and that's incredible," Justice said in the release. "For those at the Department of Education, National Guard, the county school offices and individual schools, our restaurants and retailers – everyone that has made this happen, I thank you so much and I know that you are still at it every day. Keeping our children fed and cared for during this pandemic is vitally important."
"We will continue to feed children during the school closure and also to ensure that our schools remain engaged with students and families," said Burch. "Teaching and caring for children is at the very core of what we do as educators, and our counties and schools continue to step up in amazing ways to meet the needs of children."
The WVDE has worked with the state National Guard, Department of Agriculture and Division of Tourism to provide stability for children throughout the state.
To continue to meet the nutritional needs of children, most counties are transitioning to multi-day meal packs that are distributed one or two days each week. For the latest information regarding local food distribution for children, visit https://wvde.us/covid19/feeding-site-information/ or call your local county school office (Fayette at 304-574-1176 and Kanawha at 304-348-7770).
As of April 1, the Kanawha plan featured five days of meals which include both breakfast and lunch that will be provided at all bus routes. For bus terminal information, go to https://kcs.kana.k12.wv.us/Article/3779/bus-terminal-contact-information. If you are a walker, visit http://edulog.kana.k12.wv.us/liveweb/webquery/.
On Monday, April 6, Kanawha is switching to boxed meals through Compass Food Service, according to the website. That will eliminate the preparation of meals by KCS staff and volunteers. The boxes will still include one breakfast and lunch per day, and the delivery will remain unchanged except in the Sissonville area. For those families, delivery will be on Tuesday.
Also, milk will be provided outside of the prepared meal boxes. Those picking up meals may want to also bring a bag or other item to carry the milk.
For the most up-to-date information, visit the Kanawha County Facebook page or https://kcs.kana.k12.wv.us/Article/5690/kcs-coronavirus-plan-for-schools.
For more information about COVID-19 prevention and more, call the state’s toll-free hotline at 1-800-887-4304 or visit Coronavirus.wv.gov.
For more about WVDE COVID-19 resources and support, visit wvde.us/COVID19.
To view a Million-Meal Milestone video, visit https://youtu.be/fdt0YuO5unI.
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