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July 4, 2020

RSS will keep feeding children this summer with more than triple the number of meals usually distributed

SALISBURY — Distributing about 25,000 meals three days a week to county children, Rowan-Salisbury Schools will be able to keep its current feeding program going through the summer.

Normally, the district would give out about 3,000 meals a day during the summer, and children would sit and eat their meals at a distribution point — the J.F. Hurley Family YMCA, Salisbury First United Methodist or any of the other sites meals are brought to.

The school nutrition program is federally funded except for the transportation, and normally students would not be allowed to carry away meals. But the same waiver that has allowed the program to deliver meals during the COVID-19 shutdown extends through June 30, and Nutrition Director Lisa Altmann said she hopes the waiver will be extended through the summer so the district can keep the program going as is. An adjustment could mean fewer families who need the meals would be able to take advantage.

Meals are also available through car-rider lines.

“This is unheard of that we are allowed to hand an adult meals or a child meals and say ‘go home,’ ” Altmann said.

The district cannot have students eat in groups due to concerns for student safety and gathering limits amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Normally, the district would rent some enterprise buses and a van and only have to cover $1,000 a week in transportation costs. This year, the district will use yellow school buses for the program, just as it does now. Assistant Superintendent of  Operations Anthony Vann noted during Monday’s RSS Board of Education meeting that the cost of running the buses will be about $73,000.

Vann said the district can look in to using some of the savings generated by lowering operational costs during the shutdown, but the hope is to use some state relief funding distributed to help feed students.

Altmann said the district needs to use the buses if it will be stopping along its normal routes. The buses have bars that extend and stop signs to show anyone approaching that they need to stop.

Organizing the distribution program is a larger feat for labor than normal years as well, requiring about 150 bus drivers. That number does not include all the nutrition workers.

Staff who are normally 10-month employees are being offered extended employment through the summer, and Altmann said the district should be able to meet staffing needs. Some nutrition workers will also serve as bus drivers.

The number of schools used for the program may be scaled back, meaning some logistics will be pushed to nearby schools instead of preparing and loading meals at every school in the district.

Altmann pointed out that the district has expanded beyond feeding its students, too, saying there are home school and charter school students also receiving meals. Meals can be collected for young children who are not in school yet as well.

Altmann and Superintendent Lynn Moody have described how the program as serving the larger community during a time of greater economic uncertainty. Altmann described Moody as an amazing supporter during the shutdown.

Altmann said there is also a plus to small children getting accustomed to seeing and approaching school buses before they begin their studies.

“I have seen a bond grow between the different departments that are on the front lines,” Altman said. “I think we have a new appreciation for what our counterparts do. I see all of these employees out there for one thing, and that is the child, making sure the children are OK.”

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