Rachel Fowler will never forget waving to the kids her staff is used to serving meals to daily. Instead of going through the cafeteria line like usual, they were driving by Homewood Middle School as the Child Nutrition Program (CNP) staff placed meals in their trunks. It’s an odd setup compared to business as usual, but still one full of silver linings. “A lot of the kids think we live here at school,” says Rachel, the CNP Director for Homewood City Schools. “It’s wonderful to have that even if it’s eight feet away. The best part of our job is feeding the kids.”
And feed kids they did after school was shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic starting in mid-March. The first day they served about 120 meals to any child 18 and under—no enrollment or residency required—who comes to Homewood Middle School. That grew by around 50 cars a day that first week. The next week they switched to serving meals twice a week sending each student home with six meals at a time. The first day alone they 274 cars came through.
The Homewood CNP usually doesn’t operate when school isn’t in session, but they were able to receive a waver to continue their services for students who usually rely on school breakfasts and lunches but are unexpectedly not in school starting March 16. Better yet, the school system was able to continue to pay all of its hourly food service workers during this break and allow only those who want to volunteer to come serve up meals to pick them up during this time.
As the program continued past the second week, the CNP team watched their grocery vendor fill in gaps where they were short, heard from my volunteers than they had room for, and generally were taking things one week at a time with intentions to serve kids as long as they could.
When Homewood Bagel Company owner Ginny Leavens learned her kids were going to be out of school for three weeks starting in mid-March, she immediately thought of the families who usually rely on school lunches to feed their children. So she posted on social media to offer meals to those kids, and with that came a flood of donations of granola bars, juices, cereal, money and more to provide breakfasts and lunches for kids who need them.
“We had a pouring out of people who wanted to help,” says Homewood Bagel head baker Laura Tucker. “It’s been a huge blessing for families who need it. It’s been a lot of our staff, but they have been working so hard to make sure these kids are loved on.”
Each day during quarantine as the bagel shop continue to offer curbside pick-up and delivery for bagels, the HBC staff also served up ham and cheese, turkey and cheese, peanut butter and jelly, you name it with a side of fruit, juices, chips, string cheese and granola bars to kids who came by in need.
As time went on, they started to get more kids and parents come by who said they had been referred to the shop to get their child a meal. “We don’t want to turn anyone away,” Laura says. “Everybody is working together and we are taking everything a day at a time.”
Back on March 7 the Trinity United Methodist Church youth group packed 40,000 shelf -stable meals with rice, beans, pasta, protein and the like as a part of their Discovery Weekend retreat, not knowing about a food crisis to come right around them less than 10 days later. They planned to share their food meals with the Community Food Bank of Alabama, but when the COVID-19 quarantine hit, they were able to share some of those meals with families who rely on school lunches but were no longer getting them since school had been called out of session for three weeks at first, and then the remainder of the year.
And that’s not all. Trinity was able to adapt its backpack ministry that delivers food to food unstable families via kids’ backpacks at school to send home with the kids who were coming to Homewood Middle School for lunches.
Plus the Food Share food pantry held at the church’s West Homewood campus on Tuesday afternoons was also able to allow their participants to pull up and have food delivered directly into their cars. Eighty-two households came through the pick-up line in just one day operating under the new system alone, and Trinity removed a previous limit on the number of visits allowed per month.
Through it all, volunteers were not just willing and able but also full of joy, Trinity Director of Outreach Kristan Walker says. “In something like this that is so chaotic and out of your control, it’s hard to feel like you can’t do anything,” she says. “So a lot of these folks are happy to be able to do something for someone else right now.”