MARIETTA — Marietta schools employees and volunteers woke up early Monday and got to work packing and delivering lunches to families in need on the first official day of school closures amid coronavirus concerns.
“We got here at six in the morning,” Cindy Culver, director of school nutrition, said as she stood in the cafeteria at Marietta High School, where about 50 nutrition workers, bus drivers and volunteers packed apples, milk, sandwiches and chips into bags and boxes and loaded them onto school buses parked outside. “This is just pure heart. When I (told my staff) we need to do this, there wasn’t a flinch. They showed up. They were ready to work.”
Culver said the same operation was happening at Marietta Sixth Grade Academy with even more people, and she estimated that the meal preparation and deliveries from both schools could feed more than 5,000 children on Monday alone.
She said throughout the day Monday, buses from seven delivery routes beginning at Marietta High School and 11 beginning at Marietta Sixth Grade Academy would stop at 81 destinations, including parks, schools and bus stops, to deliver bagged lunches and snacks to Marietta families.
Amy Miller, a math teacher at Marietta Sixth Grade Academy, spoke with the MDJ as, with gloved hands, she hustled to fill bags with food and moved boxes from table to table in the cafeteria.
Miller said it’s an interesting time to be a teacher as local school systems, just like systems across the country, are challenged with closures just months from the end of the year.
“The kids are worried. They’re like, ‘What if we don’t come back to school?’ They’re worried about their testing. They’re worried about passing school and learning,” she said, adding that she posts instructional videos online and tries to reassure them that she’s always available by email. “We just need to be here for them, because I know they’re worried. And I know parents are worried.”
But while there is still much uncertainty about how long the impacts of the coronavirus will last, Miller said staff, families and students alike are dealing with the situation the same way: “One day at a time, for sure.”
Superintendent Grant Rivera said while school systems are grappling with how to continue instruction outside the classroom in light of closures over coronavirus concerns, the “most basic discussion” school districts have to have first is how to feed the students who depend on the meals they’ve been receiving during the school day.
“They’re not just our kids during the school day and in our classrooms, they’re our kids every day. And I think on a day like today, it speaks to the commitment of this staff to this community,” he said.
The superintendent said his school system is taking the delivery program one step at a time, as health officials’ advice on coronavirus procedures changes rapidly. But, he added, “We’re doing this Monday to Friday until the government says we can’t.”
The MDJ followed one bus as it made its way around Roosevelt Circle near Turner Chapel AME Church on Monday morning, its driver honking its horn to alert the families who might be waiting for its arrival.
Janice Bedford, who lives on Roosevelt Circle with her 11-year-old son, said that in the wake of school closures, she’s caring for her son as well as many other children in the neighborhood whose parents still have to report to work.
She watched as her son and the two children she was caring for that morning ran to the back of the school bus to receive their meals and said she could have even more children to care for on Tuesday.
While Bedford said her son switches off between receiving a school lunch from Burruss Elementary School when school is in session and taking one from home, more children to look after means more food needed. She said the Marietta school system’s deliveries will take some of that pressure off.
“It’s going to be very helpful,” she said. “It’s a good thing that they’re doing this. A very good thing.”