Feeding Program for School Children Carries On After Initial Suspension

Mar 23, 2020


Randyce Askew and her two children pose after picking up lunch at the Orange Mound Community Center.
Credit Katie Riordan

With the shutdown of Shelby County Schools due to coronavirus, homebound children began picking up brown sack lunches on Monday at more than 60 different sites across the county. 

The YMCA of Memphis and the Mid-South stepped in to distribute the meals—a quick fix after the district canceled the lunches due to one employee at the Central Nutrition Center testing positive for the virus

Like thousands of others in the service industry, John Miles was recently laid off from his job in a hotel kitchen. Providing lunch for his two young children is now one less thing to worry about.

“I’m not going to turn it down,” Miles said outside the Orange Mound Community Center on Monday. “I’m so used to going to work and carrying my own weight, but anything someone’s offering, I’m going to take it.”

Learning packets are available for students without internet access.
Credit Katie Riordan

The YMCA’s staff appeared well-prepared, having taken over the massive operation just days before. Workers—wearing plastic gloves—reinforced social distancing while handing out food pouches and instructional packets for students lacking Internet access.

The district originally planned to distribute some 15,000 meals a day to ensure children from food insecure homes had nutrition during the extended closure. The YMCA could not be reached to comment on Monday's turnout.

Some education leaders, like School Board member Joyce Dorse-Coleman, worried that participation was hampered by the last-minute cancellation, then restart of the program. 

The YMCA's district executive director Shauna Bateman at the Orange Mound Community Center.

“For district 9, if you know a child that needs a [learning] package, and they can’t get to us to get a package, give me a call,” she says. “Get me on Facebook, and I’ll bring a package to a child.”

Students with Internet access can get the materials online. Parent Tierra Tate is keeping her three children busy that way. 

“The kids love it,” she says. “They’re tracing...doing math problems, algebra [and] reading.”

Tate has missed some shifts at work to care for her children during the day. Although for now, she’s enjoying the extra time with them. 

“My kids come first, I can always get another job,” she says.