The Transportation Department and Food Services for Simpson County Schools program is working to provide students breakfast and lunch meals while school is closed during the hiatus period. In the first week of the partnership, 1,500 meals were provided to students throughout the district.
“There are a lot of kids that unfortunately don’t have a lot at home and it is our job to make sure that they do,” said Sue Lynn Prator, the Franklin-Simpson Middle School cafeteria manager.
They started on March 16, with school bus drivers picking up food from Franklin-Simpson High School and Simpson Elementary School. Bus drivers follow their normal route offering food to students, while giving the option for pickup from the school buildings as well.
The drivers and the food service workers hand out meals between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. The students receive lunch for that day and breakfast for the next day, along with their choice of milk or juice.
Craig Delk, director of Operations/Transportation for Simpson County Schools, said all of the districts bus drivers and monitors are all coming into work around 10 a.m. to get their buses ready to pick up and deliver food. Either a monitor, through the transportation department, or a member of the cafeteria staff will accompany the driver and tally how many children are receiving the meals.
“It is also very nice for us to stay in contact with our kids because we loose sight of them, all drivers have that contact with their students and all of a sudden it is gone so this makes it good,” said Gregory Gheyssens, a Simpson County Schools bus driver.
Drivers and monitors are contracted for 180 days, so delivering the meals allows them to fulfill that contract and as a bonus, they are able to see the students.
“I think it is a really good thing we are doing and I think a lot of people are appreciating that,” said Tammy Lawrence, a bus driver for Simpson County Schools.
Delk said the meals are available because Simpson County is a free and reduced lunch district, so as long as the transportation department and food services is able to deliver the food the process will continue.
“We are hoping to do it for the length of time our students are out of school,” he said. “The reason I say there is potential for it to be shut down is we have to follow the governmental guidelines, if our employees are placed on a demand to stay at home and it is not something we can service based on how contagious the virus is.”
The first day the buses delivered to around 1,000 students and the numbers have increased each day since, Delk said. As parents learn about the program they call the school to add their kid to the list. At the high school Prater said they serve between 150-175 students and the elementary school is about the same number.
Gheyssens said their stops started out as the students that were on their bus route, but as students get added they may have a kid that is in their neighborhood, but they do not pickup on the bus.
“In fact today I have gotten two notes saying there are two additional stops I should be making and they are not on my bus, but they are on my route,” he said.
Prater said they also have teachers, para-educators and maintenance workers help pass out food. When buses return they all will help get the boxes and any food left over off the bus and into the school.
Lawrence said they will make sure every child who wants a meal will get one. They all have radios on the buses and if one bus runs out they will radio to someone else in the area if they have extra to take to the students.
While the number of students they reach is high, it is still not as many as they would get meals to if they were in school, Prater said.
“You’ve got parents that are capable of feeding and providing so they feel that they don’t need this meal, that they are taking away from somebody else,” said Jennifer Ellis, the cafeteria manager at FSHS.
Prater said there is enough food, so no one will go with out a meal as part of the program.
“Everyday we are hoping to see a big increase,” she said.