School districts in Onslow, Craven, and Lenoir counties have continued their efforts to address food insecurity during the pandemic.


They have used creative ways to distribute meals to the students as Onslow uses 13 meal hubs for distribution, Craven delivers meals on their school buses using a catchy name called Free Meals on Big Wheels, while Lenoir uses five meal hubs and 20 distribution sites for their school buses.


Anyone under the age of 18 is allowed to receive a meal, including kids who are not old enough to be in school yet, and the kids are not required to be there when a parent or guardian picks the meals up.


School districts said they aren’t turning anyone away right now.


The school districts are being reimbursed under the Summer Food Service and Seamless Summer Option Programs, also known as the Summer Nutrition Programs (SNP), run by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).


The USDA is using the SNP to fund the meals by coordinating with Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty, McLane Global, and PepsiCo to provide access to students who are in need of the meals during COVID-19, according to a press release on March 17.


Latesha Williams, a stay-at-home mom of Jacksonville, said she is grateful for the work Onslow County Schools is doing, and added she sees a high demand for the meals. Her children 5 and 2, and she’s been picking up meals for both of them, which Williams said helps to save on grocery costs.


“A lot of these kids rely on breakfast and lunch during the school days. Some parents have got into a routine of using the schools to help feed their kids and thankfully the schools have been able to supply those who need it,” said Williams.


Onslow County Schools Chief Communications Officer Brent Anderson did not have the exact dollar amount, but said initially the school district used school nutrition funds that were then reimbursed by the SNP for the meals provided.


The reimbursement rate for the SNP is $4.15 for lunch and $2.37 for breakfast, which goes towards covering costs associated with providing the meals such as labor, supplies, maintenance of the equipment, and utilities, according to Anderson. Requested data on how much each meal costs the school district was not provided.


As of May 5, the OCS has distributed 409,505 meals to students, which includes 194,898 breakfasts and 214,607 lunches.


Lenoir County Public Schools operates their child nutrition program under the USDA’s Community Eligibility Provision. The provision is available to school districts who have a high percentage of low-income students.


Lenoir County Public Schools Public Information Officer Patrick Holmes said since March 17, the district has also been distributing meals under the SNP.


Because LCPS had a sufficient supply of food on hand before the start of the program, they have been able to provide the meals at no cost to the school district.


“USDA is covering all the costs for the program primarily because we had a large supply of food on hand at the cafeterias when schools closed, and we only had to buy limited items to sustain the feeding program,” said Holmes.


Lenoir has also received grant funding from The Dairy Alliance and GenYOUth, totaling $4,000, which has paid for the plastic bags for food delivery, according to Holmes.


Since the start of the program in March, Lenoir has distributed 150,512 meals and is anticipating to receive a reimbursement of $490,668 from those meals. The total amount spent so far on distributed meals was not provided by deadline.


Craven County School Nutrition Director Lauren Weyand confirmed they also used the SNP program.


For the month of March, Craven received a reimbursement of $692,556.59 which covers the salaries that have to be paid to all employees regardless if they are working or not, along with paying for food, distribution bags, and other expenses associated with meal service, according to Weyand.


Weyand added typically, Craven spends between 35-40% of their budget on food costs. However, they spent 50% for the month of March on food costs and another 10% on supplies to distribute the meals. Weyand did not provide the exact dollar amount for what Craven spent from their budget.


Brinson Elementary School Nutrition Manager Sarah Beckwith usually works to prepare food during normal school hours, but has been tasked during COVID-19 to help deliver meals to the students in Craven.


Beckwith added the experience has been uplifting to see the students again as well as the parents who rely on the meals.


“It takes a lot of logistics and work in order to plan how to prepare the meals and distribute them, but seeing how appreciative the families are really lets us know that we are doing something good for the community,” said Beckwith.


Stay-at-home mom Bethany Narron, of New Bern, is the mother of six children ages 7, 6, 5, 4, and two 1-year-olds, and relies on the convenience of the program to help feed her kids while saving on grocery costs.


“With six children a routine is a must, and I appreciate the consistency,” said Narron. “The kids really miss school and I think it also helps keep them stay connected. It brings me comfort knowing our schools are providing for the children in the county.”