For summer nutrition, schools deliver
By Sarah Campbell
EAST SPENCER — Children come running when they see Donnie Williams and Carolina Hernandez pull up in a yellow Penske truck.
“I see kids flying out from every direction,” Williams said.
The two deliver meals to underprivileged children during the summer as part of the federal Summer Food Service Program administered by the Rowan-Salisbury School System.
“My children ran out to the ice cream truck,” Lisa Altmann, the program supervisor, said. “This is like the ice cream truck, but it’s a meal truck.”
Hernandez, who works in the child nutrition department at Hurley Elementary during the year, said she looks forward to the seasonal job because she knows she’s making a difference. She has been working with the program for the past decade.
“I like to be able to be part of helping communities that have a lot of need,” she said. “It’s a blessing to be able to deliver these meals.
“For these kids, this might be the only meal they get all day.”
Williams, a member of the child nutrition staff a West Rowan High, said he loves seeing the smiles on the children’s faces as they line up to receive their meals.
“It’s just so exciting because the kids really appreciate it,” he said. “It means a whole lot because they didn’t have this when I was growing up.”
Williams has been a part of the program for 15 years and said he looks foward to the summer.
“It just gets better and better,” he said.
Three trucks deliver both breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday to about 25 sites throughout Rowan County.
Nearly 600 children ages 3 to 18 receive breakfast each day, and more than 700 show up for lunch.
“I think it’s good because at least you aren’t going hungry, at least they care,” Shannon Anderson, 15, said Thursday while she waited for her meal.
Libby Post, the school system’s child nutrition director, said the program helps bridge the gap for families with children who receive free or reduced-priced lunch throughout the school year.
She said for families on a limited budget, having to supply two extra meals each day with no additional income can be difficult.
Melissa Eddie, a single mother of thee daughters, said the program has been a tremendous help.
“It’s a blessing to be able to get them up in the morning to get breakfast and get lunch because it’s tough times right now,” she said.
Eddie is unemployed and working on a criminal justice degree online. She recently relocated her family from Washington, D.C., to Rowan County to be closer to family in Mount Pleasant.
“This is just one less thing that I have to worry about,” she said. “It definitely cuts down my grocery costs at home, which is a big help.”
Eddie’s children joined about 45 other children at the Rowan County Housing Authority in East Spencer on Thursday to receive a hot pizza, carrot sticks and chocolate skim milk.
Post said meal sites must be nonprofit organizations that are located in low-wealth areas as determined by census figures or the school system’s free and reduced lunch data. That includes daily stops at all Rowan County YMCAs, several neighborhoods and summer camps hosted by churches and schools.
There are three hot and two cold meals delivered each week.
Imani Donalds, 10, said she particularly looks forward to burrito Friday.
“I’m grateful to have the food,” she said.
Altmann said she tries to incorporate as much fresh produce into the menus as possible.
“We want to make sure the kids have nutritious meals,” she said.
Sarah Potts, executive director of the Rowan County Housing Authority, said this is the first year the program has delivered to her facility.
“This has been absolutely vital for us to be able to launch our summer camp,” she said. “We wish we had more kids come because we know there are kids out there who need to come eat.”
And Potts said it’s not unusual for children to request seconds.
“You know they are coming here hungry,” she said.
Altmann said she’s hoping to continue growing the program.
“There are still kids out there that we need to reach,” she said.
Organizations interested in participating can contact Altmann at 704-630-6048.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.