Madison County Schools - Pandemic Partnership Response
When the pandemic hit in March of 2020, closing our school buildings, we knew that students would need not only new means of academic sustenance but also access to nutritious food. Roughly 5,200 students in Madison County Schools rely on daytime meals provided at free or reduced prices at school. Those qualifying for completely free meals make up almost 30 percent of our student body. During the first month of the pandemic, the Madison County Schools Office of Child Nutrition partnered with seven churches from all across the county to assist in meal distribution and supplement meals with weekend snack packs. Locations were set up to provide meal access to as many students as possible, especially in those areas with higher-qualifying populations for free and reduced lunch.
On the first day of offering free curbside meals, Wednesday, March 18, the District distributed more than 625 meals at three school locations. On Friday, area churches joined in to assist in handing out the meals and also to provide extra snack packs to give weekend sustenance and combat food insecurity. Colonial Heights Baptist Church, Broadmoor Baptist Church, Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church, First Baptist of Flora, Mt. Charity Missionary Baptist Church, and Pinelake Church served as key community partners, providing volunteers to make meal service possible and successful during these early days of the pandemic. These churches joined in the meal distribution process on Thursdays and Fridays, assisting Child Nutrition staff.
As word spread quickly of the pick-up meal program, thanks to wide-ranging communications efforts via social media, mass media, posted signs, website graphics, and District phone apps, the need was clear for more meals and more locations. The following Monday, the District expanded pick-up meal service to a fourth school distribution location, and 1,056 meals were handed out.
The District saw the demand for food was great over a broad geographic area, and our community partners rose to the challenge. On Wednesday, March 25, we opened our fifth distribution location and the first to be held at a community partner’s site thanks to the generosity of Smith Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in Flora. Eighty-four percent of students who attend East Flora Elementary qualify for free lunch and enabling the District to serve meals from Smith Chapel’s location eased the travel difficulties for many parents in need in this rural community. The distance covered across Madison County School’s campus locations is 40 miles from East to West, and another 40 miles North to South. Meeting students and parents close to home at school and community locations was critical to the success of effective meal distribution, as were the extra hands of community partners in enabling us to operate six meal distribution sites and provide curbside pick-up.
These vital partnerships continued through April and then to the end of the school year in May. In April more than 50,000 meals were distributed in total, and in May more than 31,000. By the time summer arrived, the USDA was providing meal packs to last students for a whole week at a time, lessening the need for volunteer assistance due to fewer distribution days and more provided food. During those first months of the pandemic, volunteer partnerships between area churches and Madison County Schools were critical to ensure that thousands of children did not go hungry.
Colonial Heights Baptist Church, Broadmoor Baptist Church, Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church, First Baptist of Flora, Mt. Charity Missionary Baptist Church, Smith Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, Pinelake Church.