By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Smiling faces, lunch bags and school buses
Hard work certainly has its rewards
covid lunches
Bulloch County Schools food service and transportation employees work together to prepare and deliver meals from the kitchens at Julia P. Bryant Elementary School.

Back during the summer, we asked our readers who they thought was deserving of some attention for their service during the pandemic, specifically when it came to essential workers. The overwhelming response was that the group of people most deserving of this recognition were the people who prepared the meals for local school-age children throughout the months that schools were closed. 

Knowing that many children in Bulloch County would go without food each day without school breakfasts and/or lunches, this faithful group worked to provide both lunch and breakfast for children each day. During the 20-week period that began March 17, 485,256 meals were served, and families in up to 78 locations received meal bags packed with breakfast and lunch—meaning that as many as 2,900 children per day were fed.

As soon as Bulloch County Schools let it be known that schools would be closed, the school nutrition staff immediately began to work on a plant to feed the children. The Transportation Department was also involved as they worked out the logistics on delivering the food, and the system’s social workers were also called in to help determine what areas were in need.

School Nutrition staff arrived each day at 6 a.m. at the kitchens at Julia P. Bryant Elementary School and Portal Middle-High School. They prepared both breakfast and lunch, and were joined by numerous transportation and school-level volunteers to pack the food into bags. By 9:30, they loaded food and personnel on school buses and headed out.

At Julia P. Bryant, there were around 30 School Nutrition employees, 10 to 15 school-level staff, and around 13 transportation drivers each day. Two to three social workers also helped deliver the meals. At Portal, there were three School Nutrition employees, two school-level staff and two bus drivers. 

“When the program first started, there were so many uncertainties as to what to expect,” said Megan Blanchard, School Nutrition director. “Nothing like this has ever happened in my lifetime. When we prepared for day one of the meal program, we planned for a much larger scale of our summer feeding program. At the end of each day, we would meet to go over what went well and came up with solutions for the issues. Through this process, it evolved into quite an effective meal program that reached thousands of children daily.”

The school system worked at the start to find the children who were most in need. Keith Wilkey, director of Social Work Services and Homeless Liaison for the schools, says the district keeps a list of all students that are known to live in hotels and in parked cars.

“We made sure to touch base with those families first, as they were the most food insecure,” he said. “Some of the families found more stable housing, and were able to make it to a food drop. For those that didn’t, we were able to take them food.”

Wilkey says that as they handed out food, other families in hotels asked about the service, and they were also provided meals for their children. 

“We have a great working relationship with Safe Haven. We were able to connect with them to deliver meals to a neutral location so their staff could pick up and safely deliver meals. As the program grew, Safe Have was able to directly pick up meals at a pre-established site to deliver to the families they serve,” he added.

Nine buses delivered food in Statesboro, and one delivered in Portal. Most days, the same drivers were on the buses.

“It was a real joy to see how everyone pulled together and worked to get everything done. The bus drivers and the School Nutrition workers worked hand in hand every day, putting the lunches together and delivering them to the students. The transportation mechanics took time out of their busy schedule to load the buses every morning,” said Janet Tanner, Bulloch County Schools Transportation director. 

Tanner said the effort proved how strong the organization is.

“We have a great group of people who are willing to go the extra mile to help the students here in Bulloch County,” she said. 

Blanchard said she had the opportunity to ride the bus and help deliver meals, and enjoyed seeing the smiling faces of the children and their parents.

“It really shows the impact that this program had on the kids when you see their smiling faces greet us at each stop,” she said. 

Takesha Collins, manager at Julia P. Bryant’s kitchen, says she’s in her sixth year at the school, and she found the entire experience to be wonderful.

“It’s been helping the community a lot. There’s so many of our babies out there that need this, as well as it’s our service. We’re continuing to do what we normally do throughout the year,” she said, just as the program was coming to a close at the end of July. “It’s been a journey and it’s been wonderful.”

The experience of working and serving the community in this way was something Collins said she’s never experienced.

“And I tell God thank you every day, simply because he’s allowed me to do this consistently. It could have been different. But it’s a blessing, that’s how I consider it,” she said. 

Collins says she was thankful to be able to continue to work during a time when so many were unable to. But the best part was seeing the children she had missed so much while schools were closed.

“With all this social distancing, to be able to tell that little baby that comes to the bus, and he’s like, ‘Hey Miss Kesha,” and I’m like, ‘Hey baby, how you doing?’ It’s just wonderful to see them and even the parents. We tell them, ‘Hey how y’all doing? Stay safe.’ And that’s been encouraging to us. It’s been a blessing. It really has,” she said.

Gina Phillips, assistant manager at Langston Chapel Middle School, agreed that she also really enjoyed seeing the children and is glad for the opportunity to help so many in the community. 

The best part for her, she says, was that all of the staff from the entire School Nutrition department from all the schools was able to work together. 

“Us all working together, being able to prepare the food on time and get it out there to the kids, and being able to see how excited some of the kids have been about getting something to eat,” she said. “I really enjoyed it.”

The hardest part, she adds, was having to wear the masks in the heat.

“It’s been so hot, so with the heat, it’s been extra hot with these masks on,” she said, adding that now that the program is over, she will miss working with people throughout the district that she doesn’t get to work with regularly.

Ruby Walker, who is the assistant manager at William James Middle School, echoed her peers’ comments, saying that she also enjoyed the experience, especially getting to go out and see the kids. 

“But the greatest blessing was just knowing that the kids all had something to eat and that no one had to go without,” she said. 

Listed here are the wonderful folks who prepared breakfast and lunch five days a week  for local children while schools were closed during the start of the pandemic.

• Sharmane Lee

• Connie Simpson

• Kesha Collins

• Tammyra Lee

• Sarah James

• Tonya Deloach

• Dinah Nelson

• Hughette Bonnette

• Patsy Hendrix

• Patricia Johnson

• Becky Cone

• Kristy Hopkins

• Mae Jones

• Lois Hylow

• Carolyn Wilson

• Gina Phillips

• Terry Deloach

• Ruby Walker

• Annie Lovett

• Constance Smith

• Scarlett Driggers

• Sheila Soloman

• Evonne Kirkland

• Barbara Hawkins

• Angel McCollum

• Carolyn Price

• Patti Cooper

• Beverly Johnson

• Glenda Love 

• Kathie Trzecieski

• Kimberly Robinson

• Janice Potter

• Sarah Leonard

• Liesl Rowe

• Michelle Aldrich

• Annie Johnson

• Paige Waters

• Faye Lundy

• Janey Johnson

• Brandy Napier

• Fannie Huff 

• Lessie German

• Kathy Turner

• Kimberly Carson

• Sheila Beasley

• Gloria Hagins

• Michael Williams

• Aundrea Lee

• Annie Davis 

• Lorraine Tremble

• Lutrelle Hardy

• Liz Gamble

• Sharon Scott

• Sarah Sheffield

• Diana Lawson

• Casey Hart

• Linda Henry

• Stephan Williams

• Velma Mosley

• Jackie Wells

• Sabrina Palmer

• Barbara Scott

• Mamie Jenkins

• Mary Mikell

• Andrea Donaldson

• Russell Walker

• Angela Driggers

• Kim Dail