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School system to resume summer feeding program, seeks community support

The program that ensures nutritious meals for children in Beaufort County during the summer months is set to undergo a major change. Beginning this summer, Beaufort County Schools will take over administration of the USDA Summer Food Services Program, and the school system is seeking community support to ensure no child goes hungry in the community.

The task of organizing and running the program now falls to BCS Child Nutrition Director Gwyn Roberson-McBride, who says the school system will need two things for the program to be successful: volunteer support from the community to carry out the program’s mission and at least 300 students per day eating lunch for the federally-subsidized program to break even.

“We’re looking for community organizations to volunteer to help us feed the children,” Roberson-McBride said. “We will provide the meals. If there are 50 or more children in a location, we will bring the meals to them, and we just need community volunteers to serve the meals.”

In essence, while the school system can deliver meals to places where 50 or more students are gathered, community volunteers are needed to help deliver meals to pockets of the county where there are students in need.

“On a day-to-day basis, we serve about 4,500 lunches and 2,000 breakfasts each day, so we do have employees that are highly trained to be able to feed the large quantities of students,” Roberson-McBride said. “Our free and reduced rate is pretty high for Beaufort County, so we know there are children in our community who are not eating three nutritious meals per day. We’re trying to reach those children, along with all the other children.”

All told, an average of 75 percent of Beaufort County Schools’ students qualify for its free or reduced lunch, with some schools up to 94 percent.

CHANGING CIRCUMSTANCES

Since 2008, the SFSP program has been administered by Care-O-World, a nonprofit community childcare center with locations in Washington and Chocowinity. Distributing meals throughout the summer at 17 sites from Aurora to Belhaven and points in between, the organization served almost 35,000 meals to Beaufort County children last summer alone.

Citing changes to the U.S. Department of Agriculture program at the federal level that will increase operation costs, increase food waste and increase documentation required for the program, Care-O-World announced in January that it would not administer the program in 2019.

“Our organization lost, in total, over $24,000 during the past two summers,” read a letter from Care-O-World to community supporters. “While this has been manageable in the past, it is not sustainable long-term. Due to the many changes in the program this year, our loss would be considerably more than in past years.”

For Care-O-World teacher and SFSP Director Teresa Clayton, the need filled by the program is readily apparent. On the program’s busiest day last summer, Care-O-World and its volunteers served nearly 800 meals to local children, many of whom might otherwise have gone without.

“That would be their time to get food and proper nourishment,” Clayton said. “We found that on Mondays, they would be hungrier, because for some maybe on Friday that was the last meal they received or maybe with very little on Saturday or Sunday.”

For information about volunteering, to help with the SFSP program, either as a group or on an individual basis, call Roberson-McBride at 252-946-2012.