News Release, Charles County Public Schools
Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) continues to serve thousands of meals a week to children 18 and younger as the statewide school closure stretches to April 24. The first week of the meal distribution at eight initial sites saw 11,000 meals given out over five days. By the second week of the original closure, three more meal sites were opened. The distribution numbers continue to climb, Crystal Richardson, supervisor of food and nutrition services, said. “Last week we did over 32,000 meals, the week before was over 25,000 meals,” she said.
Children receive three meals per daily visit — a bagged lunch and dinner, and breakfast kit for the following morning. About 45 FNS employees are staffing the 11 sites which are open 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday to Friday at Henry E. Lackey, Maurice J. McDonough, St. Charles and Westlake high schools, Milton M. Somers Middle School, and Dr. Thomas L. Higdon, Indian Head, J.C. Parks, Dr. Samuel A. Mudd, Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy and J.P. Ryon elementary schools. If a child can’t be present to pick up meals, their parent or guardian can show the child’s student ID badge or report card with their student identification number — a physical copy or on ParentVue — to FNS staff.
The social distance and no-contact guidelines in place to slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) has limited certain interactions. Theresa Kidd, FNS manager at the F.B. Gwynn Educational Center who is working at the McDonough site during the closure, said it’s tough not to hug her students who stop by or accept cards and other artwork. But she’s making the best of it. Waving, asking how their day is going, complimenting their handmade face masks – it is how it is right now. And visitors are thankful and kind. “We have our regulars which is really cool,” Kidd said. “I’m actually really enjoying getting to see so many different people.”
At Lackey, Gail Slaughter is overseeing site operations with the assistance of Anna Beyer. Slaughter is the longtime food and nutrition services manager at Lackey, while Beyer is the food and nutrition services manager at Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy. According to Beyer, they are serving about 150 meals daily. Prior to the mandated school closure announcement, Slaughter handed in her retirement paperwork but has been at Lackey each day to do her part to feed the community. Beyer said she loves her job and what the CCPS food service staff is doing to ensure children are fed. “These are our kids. I see a lot of our kids coming through here each day. One lady told us her kids look forward to coming here each day. They are all so appreciative,” Beyer said.
Richardson sings the praises of FNS staff who not only said they would be happy to help, but changed the way they serve meals to students. “Although the FNS professionals are always there for ‘their children,’ this is a very scary time,” Richardson said. “Our staff is providing a vital service and a constant to many families when the rest of their daily lives have become very uncertain.”
Parents also appreciate the service and connection the meal distribution staff provide to their children. “You truly go above and beyond for us each day,” Anna Barba posted to CCPS’s food service Twitter account. “The food is amazing, but the structure and connection to the ‘old normal’ that comes along with being able to see their beloved cafeteria workers is what motivates my kids to beg to go each day at 11 a.m.”
Stephanie Coombs is the food and nutrition services manager at Indian Head Elementary School. Coombs is overseeing the meal site at Indian Head and has helped to serve about 200 bags of meals each day since the school closure began. “We have to make sure our babies are fed,” Coombs said. This week, Coombs was joined by her colleague at Indian Head, Stephanie Gans, and Mattawoman Middle School food and nutrition services assistant manager Delano Wright. Gans has been working at Indian Head for the past four years. “We volunteered to help run these sites,” Gans said. Wright has been at Mattawoman for the past eight months and loves his job. “Before I was working in juvenile corrections and needed a change. This is the change I needed,” he said.
Mary Beth Snyder is the food and nutrition services manager at Dr. Gustavus Brown Elementary School but jumped in to serve meals at J.C. Parks Elementary School when the site was recently added. “We have all volunteered to work period. It is about feeding kids,” Snyder said. Shannel Proctor regularly works as a food and nutrition worker at Parks and said she most enjoys seeing her students at the meal sites. “I am glad we still get to be hands on. I love coming to work and seeing the babies come through here,” Proctor said. Snyder and Proctor, as well as other food and nutrition services staff working at Parks, have made their time fun. “Each week we dress up in a theme. Earlier this week, we were dressed in Disney stuff,” Proctor said. Snyder said they are averaging about 240 bags of food daily.
Since the initial school closure — which started March 16, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has implemented different waivers and modifications augmenting how FNS employees do their job, and they have rolled with the changes, Richardson said. “With the USDA waivers for the meal program, [staff has] faced daily changes to the number of children they are serving, our service style and the families that they are serving, and have done so with a willingness to help the community and a love for what they do,” she said. “They have stepped up and pledged to be wherever the children need them — many of them working at schools that they do not normally work at during the school year.”