Schools, volunteers distribute meals

Dorchester Banner/Dave Ryan
From the left, Aydon Milton, Kyleigh and Kasideigh Perry, and LaNajah Cornish picked up books and meals at New Beginnings in Cambridge. The site, like seven others in the county, is distributing food and other items to help keep children nourished and busy during the school closure.

CAMBRIDGE — School administrators and staffs, along with community volunteers, have responded quickly to the needs of hungry children following school closures to limit the spread of COVID-19. Meals are being packed and distributed at 13 sites throughout the county, with the assistance of Mid-Shore Meals til Monday.

All public schools in Dorchester provide free meals to all students, while classes are in session. But when classes are not held, some young people need extra support.
Meals til Monday has for years packed and provided balanced, nutritious meals to feed children over the weekends, when they would not have access to school meals. Now, the private, volunteer group and local schools have teamed up to make sure Dorchester’s children eat well during the closure.

On March 13, students took home two weeks worth of homework. On Thursday, Gov. Hogan prohibited gatherings of more than 10 people.

“We’ll be out here every day until school reopens,” Patricia Prosser said Thursday at New Beginnings at the Bay Country Apartments in Cambridge. Ms. Prosser, who is principal of North Dorchester Middle School, led a team of administrators at the location, where they had a school bus loaded with meals.

“We start at 8 a.m. bagging it,” Ms. Prosser said, adding that administrators and cafeteria staff on her crew put together 500 bags every day.

Leslie Bishop, who leads Meals til Monday in the county, said she was troubled by instructions to citizens to stay as isolated as they can, considering her commitment to feeding children. “I can’t stay away from everybody,” she said. “We’re making 800 bags a week.”
Linda Starling is a Meals til Monday volunteer. “We’ve had a tremendous outpouring of help,” she said, running down a mental list of companies and individuals who have offered goods and services.

Word is spreading about the schools’ free breakfast, lunch and dinner bags. They were being distributed to school children ages 4-18 at locations including the Empowerment Center on Pine Street in Cambridge, New Beginnings on Greenwood Avenue, Goodwill Industries parking lot on U.S. 50, Sandy Hill Choptank, Vienna and Hurlock elementary schools, Warwick Elementary, South Dorchester School, 1243 Zachary Drive in Foxtail Crossing, and Dorchester County Public Schools Central Office at 700 Glasgow St. in Cambridge or North Dorchester High School from 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. until classes resume.

Meals til Monday will distribute additional bags at each location. Mr. Prosser’s team is also offering free books.
On Tuesday afternoon, Dorchester County Public Schools provided additional information on the structure of the distributions program. The statement follows in its entirety:
Dorchester County Public Schools now has 13 food distribution points around the county and is feeding a growing number of students each day. Our Food Service team and the staff volunteers, along with our non-profit partner Meals till Monday, are committed to ensuring that Dorchester County children aren’t hungry. We are aware that some folks in the community are concerned that not all children who want our grab-and-go bags are getting them and have suggested alternative methods of distribution. While we welcome suggestions, we need to stick within the rules that govern our funding.

Thank you to Lisa Peters and Mark Harris of our Food Service team for explaining more:
1) Why don’t you distribute the food by having the school buses travel their usual routes?
There are many levels of checks and balances in the distribution of food for our children to which we must adhere. In order to distribute food, an application must be filed with the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) which contains a physical distribution address, a time of service, reason for service, etc. Although this may change in the future, distributing food at individual bus stops does not fit the requirements for approval from MSDE.

2) Why can other places do it?
If other Maryland districts are doing home deliveries at this point, they are running the risk of losing federal/state funding. We chose to look to the future and feel it is of the utmost importance to protect our Community Eligibility Provision Program (free meals for all students) by not distributing food outside of the program regulations.

3) Why do children have to be present to receive the bags?
Again, this is due to MSDE regulations. The usual requirement is that meals approved by the MSDE must be consumed at the site when they are distributed. Because of school closures, this regulation was waived, but it is still required that the child receive the meal personally.

4) If buses can’t deliver the meals, how about using volunteer drivers?
If we are receiving funding to purchase the provisions to produce the meals, the same regulations stated above still apply. Though we appreciate the well-meant offers of help, we still have to adhere to MSDE regulations and release meals only to children, not volunteer drivers.

5) What would happen if you were to violate these rules?
If we do not adhere to the regulations set forth by MSDE, we risk not only losing ALL future funding, but may also be required to pay back all reimbursements from the past year – that’s over $1.7 million. All students would then have to pay for their breakfasts and lunches while in school. As we all know, we live in a community where this simply isn’t possible, which means that there would be even more children to go hungry than there are now.

We are grateful for all the support from the community during these unusual times and hope this gives you a better understanding of the framework in which DCPS must work as we go about the important task of helping ensure our students remain fed! #InThisTogether #WeAreOneDCPS

Helpful Coronavirus links

Maryland Department of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage

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