LENOIR CITY, Tenn. (WATE) — Jeff Cortez is used to telling people what to do.
The Lenoir City High School football coach does it every day in the fall instructing his team ahead of their Friday evening game. On Monday morning at Lenoir City Elementary School, Cortez wasn’t the one giving out the orders; instead he only relayed the messages given to him by the food services department at their school.
Messages are given to him by the food services department as they worked together to feed hundreds of area students.
“Our food service ladies are heroes to as far as I’m concerned,” Jeff Cortez said. “To orchestrate all this and to plan the meals every week to think through that whole process of what we’re going to do this week. I’m happy to be a team player and to be coached by them every week.”
With COVID-19 keeping kids out of school, the food services department is distributing a week’s worth of meals on Monday afternoon. As a result of the added workload, the food services department sent out an email asking for help.
“A simple ask can we create some sort of rotation and get some extra help,” Cortez recalled the email. “When you start thinking of lugging around 450 gallons of milk it gets a little daunting.”
The athletics department was quick to offer their services.
“It’s part of being an athlete I think and having a little bit higher standard for yourself, to give back and to just be a part of the community,” Cortez said.
The Panthers athletic department was given some dates that volunteers were needed, then those dates were then assigned to its various teams (ex. girls basketball, football, cheerleading).
Following required temperature checks for all volunteers, as well as the distribution of masks and gloves, food preparations begin promptly at 8:30 a.m. on Monday – a typically unwelcome hour for teens without the responsibility of attending classes.
“We care about our community,” senior cheer captain Brianna Fuller said. “Rather than sleeping in or scrolling on Instagram, we can actually be doing stuff out here that betters ourselves and the area.”
It takes nearly four hours for the food service department and the athletic department volunteers to divvy up the 10,000-plus meals for the noon distribution. The meals, which include breakfast and lunch for five days as well as a juice bag and gallon of milk, are then brought outside for curbside pick-up.
“When these young people see the cars that pull up and the families that need help it’s also sobering and humbling and you appreciate what you have,” Cortez said.
And as much as distributing food is for others, there’s still a joy the student-athletes take away from distant interactions.
“I haven’t seen people except for my family in quarantine so it’s nice to see some familiar faces around the county,” senior basketball player Scory Correa said.
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