Cumberland County is located in central Virginia, just 50 miles southwest of Richmond City. The school division is comprised of about 1,335 students, 80% of whom qualify for free or reduced lunch. With no grocery stores in the county and limited access to fresh foods, Cumberland County has been considered a food desert for several years. Back in April we spoke with Dr. Chip Jones, the Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations, to learn more about what the school division has done to support students and families through the coronavirus pandemic.
How is your organization or school district helping families and children access food?
Jones: When we first started, it was all so sudden—schools shut down and the world changed. It was hard to wrap our heads around it but we started by serving meals once a day. Sometimes you have to go through something to learn how to manage it best and this was one of those situations. After a bit, we did more to promote our delivery so that folks could practice social distancing and we figured out that we could provide multiple meals at a time to also limit contact.
In addition to a couple of key pick-up locations, our district is delivering to homes for families who can’t access those meal sites. It’s a team effort. Central office administration, food staff, bus drivers all help get the food to the sites and homes. You’ll see about seven staff members supporting from across different departments in the school division working at any of our meal sites. We’ve even set up a color coordinated system for breakfast and lunch so that students or families know which is which and it makes distribution quick and easy.
What challenges are children in need facing with getting food in your community?
Jones: We’re of course a rural school division. There are actually zero grocery stores in the county, only some gas stations and Dollar Generals. It could take families at least 20 minutes to drive to the nearest Food Lion so yes, it’s tough for some families, especially now.
I also think when people first heard about the feeding programs, they thought if they take the food they might be looked down upon. But we’ve been able to make people feel relaxed and show them we’re here to help.
Is there anything else people need to know about how the coronavirus’ impact on childhood hunger in your community?
Our nutrition staff has been incredible. They’ve come together and I see smiles on their faces as they prepare and pack food. I think it’s emphasized what an important part they play in schools on a daily basis. I don’t think people have realized what they do for a school system until now. They are essential staff. They’re feeding the students. To see the smiles on kids’ and parents’ faces – you know they’re helping everyone.
About No Kid Hungry
No child should go hungry in America. But millions don’t know where their next meal is coming from. No Kid Hungry is ending childhood hunger by helping launch and improve programs that give all kids the healthy food they need to thrive. This is a problem we know how to solve. No Kid Hungry is a campaign by Share Our Strength, an organization working to end hunger and poverty.