Diane Peltz – Contributing Writer
The summer lunch program is in full swing with Macon County School buses delivering close to 3,000 meals daily to students. Four schools in Franklin are offering the free lunch/breakfast program.
Franklin High School (FHS) staff arrive at work between 5:30-6:00 a.m. to begin meal preparation for students from Monday through Friday. Manager Terrie Kendrick and Assistant Manager Analisa Adams bag about 875 lunches along with breakfast items each day. Assisted by their staff members, Lacey Pholetter, Georgia Parker, Debbie Carver, Tammy Shephard, Alice Davis, Deanna Lucky and Cindy McGaha, the process appears seamless. School buses arrive at the high school to collect the lunches to be distributed on their bus routes. By 11:30, nearly a dozen buses roll off campus to start deliveries as they do at each of the schools offering free lunch. Students meet the bus at their regular school bus stop and are greeted with a smile and two meals, by their bus driver, who is now a familiar face. Parents who opt not to have the lunches delivered are able to drive to one of the four schools participating in the lunch program, to pick up their child’s food. FHS also delivers to Danny Antoine’s Martial Arts and Fitness Academy and New Visions Gymnastics who are both providing child care during the week.
South Macon Elementary School is also a site for free lunch. Manager Teresa Holland said that S. Macon prepares and distributes about 564 lunches daily between buses and parent drive up.
Mountain View Intermediate’s Manager Tabatha Sanchez says her count is about 840 bagged lunches between buses and parent pick up.
Iotla Valley Elementary School’s lunch program is run by Manager Sandra Bennett. She loads close to 400 lunches on her bus routes and also offers parent pick up service at the school.
The county had received word of a CARES Act grant of $244,194 in May in order to continue to offer free lunch delivery by bus drivers, but the grant runs out at the end of June. No one is sure yet whether another grant will be available for July or August, although lunches will continue to be prepared at the school sites throughout the summer.
Area food distributions
CareNet offers food to residents on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Every car that drives up to the window at CareNet is provided a box full of food. Volunteers roll the box down a ramp from the window and drivers are able to pick it up and place it in their car. According to CareNet Director Tim Hogsed, the food distribution center has seen a tremendous increase in demand. Normally, between 13- to 20,000 pounds of food is distributed monthly, but since March 15, CareNet has supplied more than 110,000 pounds of food. The normal yearly distribution is approximately 175,000 pounds.
Deliveries from CareNet also go out to several area fire departments for residents to pick up locally. Nantahala, Scaly Mountain, Clarks Chapel, Burningtown and Highlands are among the fire departments that folks are able to pick up food.
The soup cafe at CareNet is closed as is their resale shop. Hogsed explains that folks who work at the resale shop are seniors and would be at risk of contracting the virus if they were to open up now. And even though the cafe is closed, CareNet does offer bagged lunches for those who need it with clients being able to take two lunches for the days CareNet is closed.
Hogsed wants to make sure folks know how much help he has gotten from the community.
“The community has gotten behind us and the support has been overwhelming, from volunteers packing backpacks to donations both monetary and in kind,” he said.
He does not know when he will be able to reopen the resale store or the soup cafe, but he does want to be sure it is safe to do so when that time comes.