Gwinnett schools, Atlanta food bank partner to feed minds, bodies

Summer break can mean lazy days of sleeping in and hanging out by the pool for many students, but for some, it means a lack of nourishment for the body and for the mind.

To combat this "summer slide," as it is often referred to, Gwinnett County Public Schools and the Atlanta Community Food Bank have partnered to bring books, snacks and meals to kids who receive free or reduced-priced lunch during the school year and have limited access to public libraries. And the coolest part is that it's delivered by a converted school bus.

Two mobile libraries each travel 35-stop routes in the Meadowcreek and Norcross clusters each week, allowing students to check out school library books. The two Book Mobiles are stocked with books for all ages and reading levels — pre-K to 12th grade — pulled from the shelves of school media centers. The buses have been running their weekly schedule (Monday through Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 5:45 p.m.) since June 4, with the program wrapping up Friday, July 27.

Aliza Zainab, a rising fifth-grader at Stripling Elementary, visited the bus at its first stop Friday at the Centre at Peachtree Corners apartments. Along with her brother, Jafar Husain, they pick out books every week.

“My favorite is the Baby-Sitters Club,” she said of the series aimed at adolescent girls.

She said her teacher told her about the program before school ended and she’s encouraged her friends to also take advantage of the opportunity.

“I can’t wait until next week when we get to choose a book to keep,” she added.

After choosing a few titles to tide them over, they ventured to the food truck for lunch.

The Atlanta Community Food Bank partner One 2 One provides meals and snacks to Book Mobile patrons — children and parents.

Gwinnett schools had approached the food bank for help providing snacks for the Book Mobile visitors but the resources were available to provide meals as well.

"We are excited to be able to provide not only snacks, but summer meals through this partnership," said Michele Chivore, director of the Child Nutrition Program at the Atlanta Community Food Bank. "Research shows children who don't have to worry about food perform better in the classroom, but for those facing food insecurity, the summer months pose an additional challenge. Our hope is that by offering nutritious meals, we can ensure many children aren't starting the school year at a disadvantage."

Mary Barbee, director of media services for Gwinnett schools, had approached the board of education a few years ago with the concept. When she got the green light, the program began last year. This is the first year that meals are also incorporated.

“We’re stocked with 4,000 books,” she said. “And we try to make sure we have something for everyone.”

Most education experts stress the need for children to read at grade level by third grade. Although statistics vary, many estimate that students especially in lower grades can lose as much as 30 percent of learning over the summer break.

In a survey of participants, 90 percent said they read more because of the Book Mobile.

Gwinnett County Public Schools Book Mobile

by the numbers

2 book mobiles

70 stops

16,300 visitors

19,700 book checkouts

200 meals served daily