Since the tornadoes hit Wilson County on March 3, both Wilson County Schools and the Lebanon Special School District have been distributing meals to children at schools throughout the county.
Wilson County Schools
Since March 17, WCS has distributed 34,644 breakfasts and 37,384 lunches through Monday. The school district provided only lunches to students for the first week of distribution, leading to the discrepancy in the number of meals. The meals include meat or meat alternate, grain, vegetables, fruit and milk.
Deputy Director of Schools Mickey Hall said that because school has been canceled for the remainder of the academic year, funding is not coming into the WCS food services budget. Hall said he anticipates a $1.1 million shortfall. A lot of that consists of labor to make the food and feed the students, he said, noting that some of the costs could be reduced because “we are not buying as much food.”
At a recent school board meeting Director of Schools Dr. Donna Wright noted some significant donations that WCS has received for its food distribution program.
“There was a business owner out of Mt. Juliet who drove to Lebanon High School and wanted to donate $2,000 to fund meals,” she said, “And American Fidelity gave $20,000. Those donations, we take them thankfully because it helps pay to feed the kids.”
Wright said that Mt. Juliet nonprofit MJ4Hope is managing the donations “so it goes out and pays for those additional meals.”
The WCS drive-through food distribution stations provide three days of breakfasts and lunches on Monday and four days of meals on Thursday at Lebanon High School, Gladeville Middle School, Springdale Elementary School, Watertown Middle School and Mt. Juliet High School.
Wilson County Schools Food Service Director Melody Turner said the district distributes meals twice a week instead of the planned three days to limit exposure to COVID-19 for both the families picking up meals and school nutrition staff and volunteers.
Turner said the district is using a U.S. Department of Agriculture waiver that allows the district to operate its summer food program during the health emergency.
“It is up in the air as to how long we can take advantage of the USDA waivers. The waiver is in effect until June 30th or until the expiration of the federally declared public health emergency; whichever is earlier,” she said.
She expects meal distribution will continue.
“Even though Wilson County has a very low percentage of families on assistance in normal times, this pandemic has taken its toll on people's lives in so many ways. Many two income families are down to nothing and if these meals can help ease their burden, that's what makes it all worthwhile for us,” she said.
“Many people were concerned that we would not be able to continue with the meals, but I can assure them that we will go on with the program.”
Lebanon Special School District
LSSD calls its nutrition department employees Team Neon. The group is headed up by LSSD Nutrition Supervisor Angie Ballard and Castle Heights Elementary Cafeteria Manager Pam McPeak.
Like WCS, LSSD is feeding children younger than 18. From April 1-15, the Neon Buses have fed students 5,009 breakfasts and 5,009 lunches, according to Beth Petty, Family Resource Center Director/Community Relations Manager for LSSD.
Team Neon is also only distributing meals on Monday and Thursday. Children will receive “heat and serve” meals to warm up at home. They will cover approximately three days of food on each pickup day,” according to the LSSD website.
Petty said that the seven days’ worth of breakfast and lunch, prepared by the LSSD Nutrition Department, is federally funded. The extra food that is offered weekly has been mostly funded by community donations.
“Volunteer staff members were helping shop, sort and at times, deliver the extra food,” Petty said. “The community, as always has been so generous to our school system, with faith-based communities really leading the way in donations.”
Financial donations can be mailed to: LSSD FRC, 1007 Castle Heights Ave. N, Lebanon, TN 37087 attention: Beth Petty.
She said “until it is safer, and more product is available, we are not shopping for items in bulk. Thanks to many volunteer hours, we were able to amass enough food to last through April. We are happy that many of our families have started to receive their stimulus checks and know that will help them be able to restock their home food pantries.”
On April 15, LSSD received its monthly Weekend BackPack shipment from Second Harvest Food Bank and it also received a grant for tornado recovery from the Community Foundation.
Wilson Post reporter Xavier Smith contributed to this report.