Feeding a Need
The Watauga County Schools system and the Hospitality House of Boone both said they are working to bring a summer feeding program for students to the western end of the county, but acknowledged there are challenges ahead of that effort.
Both entities also agree that a summer feeding program for that section of the county for summer 2014 is also unlikely.
During a school board meeting earlier this month, representatives from Hospitality House told the board the school system is underutilizing child nutrition programs during the summer months in Bethel and Cove Creek communities, where more than 60 percent of students receive free or reduced lunches.
In order to have an open enrollment free lunch program, a school must have at least 50 percent of the student population receiving free or reduced lunches.
Speaking on the behalf of Hospitality House — a nonprofit crisis agency that provides shelter and food services to the community’s less fortunate — food service coordinator Allison Jennings said Watauga County Schools turns away $6,284 a day that could be used to fund a summer feeding program.
The school system, however, said this figure is misleading.
Child nutrition director Monica Adams said the federal government reimburses the school system for meals served each day.
“That number is assuming we feed all free or reduced lunch kids in that county, and that never happens,” Adams said.
This means the school system is not receiving that full amount everyday, she said.
According to the school system, while the need in western end of the county is great, it also has to factor in the needs of all students in Watauga County.
“Is there a number affected more in some areas?” WCS interim superintendent David Fonseca said. “I worry about my students in every corner in the county. I appreciate her (Jennings) passion for the west, but part of my job is that we are serving all of our students.”
Proportionally speaking, the need is greater in the communities of Cove Creek and Bethel, but it represents just a small segment of the entire school system, WCS spokesman Marshall Ashcraft said.
While more than 60 percent of the student populations at these schools receives free or reduced lunches, these schools are only serving approximately 200 to 300 students.
Still, the school system is dedicated to working to alleviate the ill effects of food insecurity in that region, and Fonseca said it appreciates the efforts of the Hospitality House.
In the future, Fonseca said it is the desire of the school system to retrofit a retired school bus and take it to the western end of the county during the summer months to provide library books and bag lunches to needy students.
“So, the plan for WCS is to make sure we provide services during the year, but also (figure) out how to coordinate and expand those services over the summer,” Fonseca said. “That’s where it gets more complicated.”
During her presentation to the school board earlier this month, Jennings mentioned that surrounding mountain counties already have summer feeding programs in place.
The school system responded that those communities also have YMCAs, summer camps and other community outreach programs in place to assist a feeding program, which are programs that Bethel and Cove Creek do not have.
“This makes it more feasible to do a program (at those sites) because the kids are already there,” Adams said.
Despite some rather contentious moments at the April board meeting, both sides said they are committed to doing what’s right for the kids and will continue to work together.
“She (Jennings) appreciates that the feeding program is a passion of mine,” Fonseca said. “You have several people that chose education because we grew up with very little. We know what it represents to have a clear mind and not to have hunger pangs when you go to school.”
Jennings said she, too, is hopeful about a continued partnership with WCS.
“I believe he (Fonseca) is doing all he can to address the issue,” Jennings said. “Perhaps the feeding program can happen next year.”