Feeding New Tazewell families amid a pandemic

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NEW TAZEWELL, Tenn. (WATE) – In response to the continuing pandemic, the school superintendent in Claiborne County tells WATE 6 On Your Side that she’s pleased the system’s feeding program will continue into July for all its students.

WATE 6 On Your Side’s Don Dare visited a school in New Tazewell this week that’s been providing food pick-up service since mid-March.

When the Safer-At-Home order was given in March, Claiborne County Schools, like all other districts, initiated an all-hands-on-deck response to its breakfast and lunch feeding program. The county, which is located about 50 miles north of Knoxville and home to Lincoln Memorial University, is making sure its children get the food they need.

The busiest school handing out meals to children in Claiborne County is Tazewell New Tazewell Primary (TNT Primary, for short).

Every Thursday, nearly two dozen cafeteria workers, teaching assistants, and administrators at the school start early in the morning preparing thousands of bags of food that will last a child for a week.

“On the menu today every student will get pizza, quesadillas, peanut butter and jelly, cheese sticks, breakfast food,” Melany Bunch, Nutrition Supervisor, said. “Half a gallon of milk, plus six cartons of chocolate milk. Seven breakfasts and seven lunches, today is a frozen entree, so they’ll be able to take it home and prepare it themselves.”

“It is wonderful. It is wonderful. If it wasn’t for them a lot of kids would go hungry,” Sandra Young, a grandparent, said.

With military-style precision, the process of preparing meals begins in the school cafeteria. Along the way many hands — all gloved ones — are involved in the efficient system.

“Well we keep our groups 10 or less. So, we have an assembly line here in the main lobby. We have an assembly line in our cafeteria. We have an assembly line in our kitchen area. They’re bagging the food  for our people outside who give it the cars that drive up,” Suzanne Anders, principal at TNT Primary, said.

The district’s food and nutrition department started its weekly pickup service at all its schools in mid-March as classrooms across the state were closed due to the virus.

Claiborne County enrolls over 4,200 students. More than half of those 18 and under have been picking up food every Thursday throughout the district.

“We serve around 50,000 meals a week. That is 7 breakfast meals , 7 lunches per child. If you do the rough math that’s about 26-hundred students, so that’s a pretty good group,” Dr. Linda Keck, Claiborne County Schools superintendent, said.

School librarian Blake Hopper fills another role on bagging day: He and the school’s Resource Officer deliver meals, plus a book, to those kids whose parents or grandparents can’t get to a feeding site.

“So these are kids that may not have transportation, they might not be able to make it out here on time. So they call into the school and say, hey, I need this many bags of food delivered to us,” Hooper said.

Last week in Clairfield, the tiny mountain community on the western edge of Claiborne County, we reported how 1,400 meals a week are handed out and how the principal, the school’s bus driver and cafeteria workers prepare a week’s supply of food every Thursday for the elementary schools 70 children.

Claiborne County’s school superintendent says the county’s feeding program has been extended into July.  And if needed, a waiver has been approved through August.

No child in the county will go hungry.

“We want all our kids to have food over the summer and during these hard times,” Melany Bunch said.

The extension of Claiborne County Schools’ feeding program into July is part of a waiver granted by the USDA Food & Nutrition Service.

The agriculture department has been “aggressive” in expanding its nutrition program in the last few weeks. Superintendent Dr. Keck of Claiborne County Schools, told us that “extending” the waivers throughout the summer keeps the kids in her county fed.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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