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WAKE FOREST— While schools across the state are closed for at least two weeks due to COVID-19, some students may be wondering where their next meal will come from.
Local school districts, community members and churches are all stepping up to fill the gap.
For parents, the drives have relieved a huge burden, according to Lasaundra Booth, a single mom of three.
“I’m a professional musician. The entire wedding industry has been impacted, so I can’t perform,” she said.
Her kids are in second, third and fourth grades.
The Wake County Public School System started distributing lunches and breakfasts for curbside pickup Tuesday. Franklin County Schools began distributing meal packages with breakfast, lunch and a snack Wednesday.
“It’s just me taking care of them,” Booth said. “Having the meals really relieves an enormous burden since schools are not open.”
Among the places these food handouts are happening are Wake Forest, Zebulon, Knightdale, and Franklin County.
In Wake Forest, the school system is distributing meals at Wake County Human Services Northern Regional Center. They served 104 kids Tuesday and 98 students in the first hour Wednesday, according to Drew Brown Jr., who represents the Northern Community Food Security Team.
“Kids need to eat. We have a lot of kids that already suffer from food insecurity during the summertime,” Brown said. “We want to make sure we’re giving them a good meal.”
Wake Forest High School’s school nutrition team prepares the food and brings it to the Northern Regional Center for distribution.
Families pull up and tell Brown how many meals they need. He informs staff further down, who place the meals on a table.
Then, the driver pulls around and grabs the meals.
“The main thing is that there’s no stigma attached,” Brown said. “Kids need food. We want to make sure we’re providing it.”
He said the meals will be available 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Monday through Friday until classes resume “and we gain some normalcy around here.”
While WCPSS doesn’t yet have a plan for weekend meals, the Northern Community Food Security Team said it is working on something.
The Northern Community Food Security Team is a division of the Town of Wake Forest and partners with the Northern Regional Center, the Capital Area Food Network with the N.C. State Cooperative Extension and the town of Wake Forest.
“We’ve had some people who want to donate canned goods to us, and we’re thinking about possibly bagging that up for people who come through on Fridays. Again, it’s the first week, and nothing is set in stone,” Brown said.
Anyone who wants to help can call 919-435-9466 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Knightdale, non-perishable shelf-stable foods and personal care items are being collected for members of the community at Arise Athletics.
“Initially the drive was just for kids, but since the schools set up something for them to receive meals daily, (the drive) is for everyone who needs it,” said coordinator Gianna Tessener.
Tessener said that within an hour after she posted about the drive on Facbeook, she got about 20 messages from people wanting to help.
“The need is huge, and it’s good to know we can count on each other,” Tessener said.
Tessener is arranging pickups and drop-offs of donations rather than having people come to the gym. To keep people apart, people place donations in boxes on the porch, and a volunteer grabs it with gloves. Items sit for 72 hours before they are handed out.
If someone needs specific items, Tessener sets up a porch drop-off. If she does not have the items, she directs people to the Northside Compassion Project or Carolina Cares/Bridge the Gap Mission.
Most of the communication has been happening through Facebook.
“There’s been a great outpouring of help,” she said. “I’m the corniest unicorn you’ll ever meet. It personally makes my heart smile.”
She is asking for people to donate personal care items to help people who are being laid off due to the sluggish economy. She also knows there is a huge need for milk and eggs but does not have the facilities to store them.
Tessener is asking people to reach out if they know elderly people who may need someone to check on them.
“Our only outlet is Facebook, and some of them don’t have that or don’t even have a computer,” Tessener said. “If you have an elderly neighbor, please let us know so we can check on them.”
In Zebulon, several churches are working together to make sure school kids receive lunches. These include Zebulon United Methodist Church, Wakefield Central Baptist Church, Central Baptist Church, St. Eugene’s Catholic Church and others.
Church members pass out food Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to noon and again from 5-6 p.m. Monday at the Methodist church.
“I knew that there are kids in our community who are food insecure,” said Shannon Baxter, a Zebulon commissioner and former educator. “Being out of school would be an issue for them, especially since the majority of them did not have an opportunity to pick up their Backpack Buddies before school was canceled.”
Backpack Buddies is a program that provides meals to kids to take home.
“As a commissioner part of my job is making sure the community is being taken care of even if it’s just in my own personal capacity and not town affiliated,” Baxter said. “It’s my honor to serve the folks in Zebulon and it’s my responsibility to make sure that they’re taken care of.”
Baxter started reaching out to people to see what the community could do to help. Roger Brantley of Share His Glory reached out to her. He brought along the Brown Bag Lunch Ministry, which feeds 1,150 people every Saturday at St. Eugene’s Catholic Church in Wendell.
Then, senior pastor Brandon Powell of Wakefield Central Baptist Church reached out. His church put together a food drive as soon as it heard schools would be closed.
Powell said the groups gave out 77 meals Monday and 250 on Tuesday.
“Then, they served pizza for dinner to everybody who came up,” Powell said.
A member of Brantley’s ministry bought 40 pizzas to share, he said.
“The biggest thing is we’re a community and we need to come together when the community has a great need,” Powell said. “Many kids rely on breakfast and lunch in the schools. We need to take it upon ourselves as a community of faith to partner together and just make food available to them and just to continue to build a sense of community with one another.”
Knightdale, Wendell and Zebulon have more kids who receive free or reduced lunch than anywhere else in Wake County, according to Brantley.
“We have the most kids that need food,” he said. “It’s something we felt in our hearts that we need to do to help out our community. It’s been a blessing. All of these churches, different faiths, are coming together to help take care of our community and let them know we care about them.”
The outpouring of donations has been fantastic, but Baxter says she is not surprised.
“Zebulon is awesome and absolutely amazing,” she said. “I didn’t think for a second that I wouldn’t be supported; I was just willing to do it on my own. But it’s so wonderful that the town’s not going to let me do that.
“They’re behind me. We’re all in this together. Nobody wants to see anybody hungry. We’re a team here.”
The group plans on giving out food until school is back in session. But Powell said there’s always a fear that people will stop giving before the need passes.
“People are willing to respond to the immediate need, but then they look at their family situations,” Powell said. “They’re wondering if they’re going to have enough food to feed them.”
Wakefield Central Fellowship Hall is open 8:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, to collect donations. People can also drop off items at Zebulon United Methodist Church. The group needs juice boxes, bread, granola bars, sliced cheese, fruit cups sandwich bags and paper bags.