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Where There’s a Will, There’s a Waiver

Hartselle City Schools Child Nutrition Program feeds Hartselle’s children during the pandemic

Child Nutrition Program coordinator Jenny Newton remembers well the afternoon of March 13. It was at 5:30 p.m. that Friday when she and others across the state learned from our governor that schools would be closing – the next week. She immediately began working to secure a waiver from the USDA to feed students during the school closure. The approval came Sunday afternoon. 

Newton, with the cafeteria managers from each of Hartselle’s schools, began working on a plan to provide students with food. Though schools were open March 16, few children attended. Parents were concerned and kept them home.  

In the meantime, all in the community with the means to do so had rushed to local grocery stores to stock their cupboards and prepare for the unknown. Shelves were emptied. And so, many of Hartselle’s children missed their Monday meals, and Newton and the cafeteria managers feared these families might not have food in their homes to nourish them through the week. 

Newton and her compassionate team got to work. Hartselle’s Dollar General and Kroger stores donated bags into which meals could be packed and distributed. Printed for the bags were labels indicating which foods needed to be refrigerated or how to prepare the foods. The bags were stocked with food items that could feed a child over the course of a week. With the help of HCS Central Office employees, thousands of meals were assembled into “week bags” of breakfasts and lunches. 

By Wednesday, curbside service was offered to our students. Hundreds were in need. Many told stories of being suddenly and unexpectedly laid off from their jobs. Others had budgeted for the month and had purchased food for their families, but they had not anticipated having everyone in the home for three meals a day when they had made those grocery purchases.   

Families were grateful, and children were excited with exclamations of, “Yes! I love Lucky Charms!” or “Strawberry fruit cups! These are my favorite!”  

The CNP team continued this curbside meal effort week after week, despite having to adjust grocery orders to find items that were available. In all, 48,392 meals were distributed. Across the schools, all who assisted in the effort were mindful of the necessary COVID-19 precautions and protections. 

During spring break when HCS did not serve curbside meals, local churches stepped in to fill that gap. In fact, local churches and restaurants continued to assist in feeding Hartselle’s children with other offerings and services. The whole thing has been heart-warming to witness. 

Even now Hartselle City Schools cannot predict exactly what August will look like, but we know all will remain committed to nourishing the brains and the bodies of Hartselle’s children.