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Food for Students Surpasses Half a Million Meals Delivered

In the past six months, Food for Students, has developed into a highly networked and tremendously successful outreach program that provides meals for hundreds of CHCCS students. Beginning from an ad hoc collaboration between district leaders and faith communities, assembled within two days in mid-March, more than 1,000 meals were distributed on Monday, March 16 to 20 sites. Food is currently delivered to 37 sites, with a series of exciting summer enrichment events now in the books. The group recently celebrated the 500,000 meals milestone.

Since 2015, the community nonprofit, Food for Summer, served nearly 200,000 meals through a collaboration among CHCCS, the Town of Chapel Hill, UNC-Chapel Hill and the Inter-Faith Council. That group operated from the middle of June until early August each year, relying on a wide net of community volunteers. But when the pandemic hit and schools closed with only a few days’ notice, the need to provide healthy meals to local children became much more than a summer initiative.

During the spring of 2020, dozens of community volunteers, most of them recruited from local churches, joined CHCCS bus drivers to meet families at the distribution sites to hand out bags containing breakfast, lunch and snacks of USDA-approved food. Now, staff members from CHCCS Transportation and Child Nutrition handle the distribution process, with volunteers still pitching in for larger special events. The group, while still a community initiative, is administered from the CHCCS Child Nutrition Department, operated by Chartwells.

Weekend meals were added to the regular Friday provisions on September 11, with breakfasts and lunches to cover Saturday and Sunday, as well as Monday breakfast.

Food for Students has been fortunate to receive financial support from the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Public School Foundation, local faith-based organizations, grant-providers and individuals. WIth their support, the program has been able to provide daily snacks, fresh produce, and several enrichment activities. To date, the donations have totaled $460,698.

But the story of this evolving organization can be told through more than numbers and dollars. The participating CHCCS staff and volunteers from Chapel Hill and Carrboro have formed connections and shared conversation and laughs as they spent time at the sites, learning faces and sometimes names of children and parents who receive the meals. 

CHCCS PTSA President, Riza Jenkins, said, “The Food for Students program has been a great way to support our families and students. My neighbors have shared that they appreciate the staff who support and have gotten to know us. The personal connection is important for everyone right now even with masks on and socially distanced.”

Food for Students with Moe's On September 2, at the Dobbins Hill and Umstead at Bolinwood sites, Food for Students organizers joined staff members from Moe’s for a burrito dinner. CHCCS Special Projects Manager Christine Cotton, Director of Child Nutrition Liz Cartano, District Chef Jordan Keyser and District Dietitian Lynne Privette were all assembled to welcome families, alongside several Moe’s employees. The meals were only the latest in several collaborations with local restaurants to feed our students. Rumi Persian Cafe provided a pasta dish at meal sites on August 26, to great reviews from the children.

On July 24, the prize-winning chef and owner of the Lantern, Andrea Reusing and her staff, prepared 550 meals for a Pop-up Family Meal pick up at McDougle Middle School. Participating families only needed to present tickets, but other local families were able to pick up meals after making a donation to Food for Students. The Lantern has continued its support of Food for Students by hosting pop-up ice cream socials, the soon-to-be famous “I Screams.” I Scream 2 takes place this weekend, September 18 and 19 with sundaes and ice-cream cocktails.

Over the summer, a series of food and art-related activities were rolled out to add enrichment, learning and fun to the essential mainstay of healthy meals. First among them was the delivery of “Boppin’ Blueberry Kits” for families, which brought big smiles and rave reviews from young bakers. Each kit contained a pint of fresh blueberries, a packet of muffin mix and a recipe. One pop-up kitchen appeared at Rogers Road Community Center with a muffin making demo.

The next week, children received Share a Smile coloring kits with new boxes of crayons, a letter template and a coloring activity. Bus drivers collected the completed drawings and letters from participating children, and they were delivered to a local assisted living facility, to “share their smiles.”

And in partnership with the Town of Chapel Hill, students at the sites were treated to “camp in a bag,” book giveaways, and nature activities during the summer. In addition, the town has provided over 4,000 masks for drivers to distribute to students and their families at the sites.

“While so much in our lives has been disrupted, it has been an honor to work with such an amazing team, one that has worked every day, since March, to bring a sense of stability to our students,” Cotton said. She has been at the helm of organizing and administering Food for Students since the first day, along with Cartano and Brad Johnston of CHCCS Transportation. 

“Experiencing firsthand how this team and our community have come together to support our students has been incredible. Since March, not one meal delivery has been missed and that is all due to the dedication of the Food for Students team, the community volunteers and donors, and our faith leaders and their congregations.”

Food for Students brain trust