Metro Atlanta schools provide needed meals to students amid shutdown

Jasmine Crowe, founder of Goodr, pushes a cart full of fruit into Phoenix Academy, the former Crim High School, on Monday to prepare for the first day of food distribution at Atlanta Public Schools. Goodr partnered with APS to set up sites for students to get food while school buildings are closed. VANESSA McCRAY/AJC
Jasmine Crowe, founder of Goodr, pushes a cart full of fruit into Phoenix Academy, the former Crim High School, on Monday to prepare for the first day of food distribution at Atlanta Public Schools. Goodr partnered with APS to set up sites for students to get food while school buildings are closed. VANESSA McCRAY/AJC

School districts across metro Atlanta enlisted bus drivers and other staff members on Monday to provide meals for children days after school buildings were abruptly closed around fears of continuing the spread of COVID-19.

Atlanta Public Schools opened five school buildings to give out free sack lunches and breakfasts to students who would normally eat at school.

A handful of families trickled into Phoenix Academy, located at the former Crim High School in east Atlanta, in the first half hour of a two-hour distribution window.

The district partnered with Goodr, an Atlanta-based company that helps businesses with excess food get that food to people in need so that it doesn’t go to waste.

The company’s founder, Jasmine Crowe, pushed a cart overflowing with strawberries, apples, oranges into the school cafeteria. The fruit was collected from major event centers and sports arenas that had extra food after events were cancelled because of coronavirus concerns.

“They had so much produce left over so we were able to get this to students,” Crowe said.

In addition to the five Atlanta school sites, the company is helping with food distribution at two community locations. Crowe said everything that’s left over each day will be delivered to more than 30 apartment complexes, houses, churches and gathering places in needy neighborhoods.

“We just want to make sure that no kid gets left behind,” she said.

Lauren Guidry and her third-grade daughter were one of the first families to stop by. Guidry said the unprecedented school building closures have been stressful. She’s trying to juggle her own work schedule and her daughter’s remote learning and school work.

Figuring out food and meals on a budget is one more thing to think about.

“I wasn’t sure exactly the level of the help that they were going to give us here, but I was like anything that they’re willing to do I’m going to make sure I take advantage of,” she said.

Recommendations from health experts to contain the spread of the virus by keeping away from other people also makes it hard on families, she said.

“Everybody is freaking out, so it’s like your support system just falls through the floor,” she said. “It’s very overwhelming.”

Few families trickled into the Bethune Middle School cafeteria in Decatur as word continued to spread about the meals.

The DeKalb County School District has opened 14 schools for lunch handouts Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. until noon. From 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. during the week, snacks will be handed out at nine area recreation centers, to help meet the needs of students, especially those who rely on school meals for their nutrition.

“We want to make sure [students] get a nutritious meal,” said Harry Jackson, cafeteria manager at Bethune Middle. “Most of them, once they leave here for the day … that’s all the meal they’re going to get for the day.”

There was a steady flow of cars pulling up to the front of Mimosa Elementary School in Roswell Monday morning. And several parent walked up with their children from the North Fulton neighborhood. Fulton County had six locations where meals could be obtained.

Volunteer Kari Miller said the school had 4,000 breakfast meals and an equal number of lunch meals prepared Monday.

Cobb County schools spokeswoman Nan Kiel said the district is “embracing a community approach to serve our neediest students.” The school district’s Food and Nutrition Services kitchens are donating food to MUST Ministries, which will distribute the food to students at more than 30 sites around the county.

Marietta City Schools will provide lunch and a snack to all students who are 18 years old or younger, regardless of their Free and Reduced Lunch status, according to its website. The system will use school buses as mobile delivery units. Bus drivers will transport meals on their buses to 81 sites along 18 routes.

Staff at Lilburn Elementary in Gwinnett County had two options for parents and students to receive the free lunches Monday. Since the school is situated in a neighborhood, the front of the school was set up for those who walked up for meals. A drive-through of sorts was set up in the back.

“I had a meeting with the team yesterday and we worked through some logistics,” said Principal Guerlene Merisme.

By 10:30 a.m. four of the eight buses to be deployed into neighborhoods to deliver meals were loaded and on their way. Faculty worked with cafeteria staff early to prepare several hundred meals, separate those with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches from the ones featuring yogurt and box them up for transport. An email and voice message sent to parents urged them to have students waiting at bus stops between 11 a.m. and noon.

It may have been the cold, rainy day or perhaps some people forgot about the giveaway, but only a few dozen students showed up at the school for the sack lunch.

School nurse Kelly Mowe and parent liaison Teresa Varela rolled carts of lunches and crates of milk to the parking lot and waiting for the throng that didn’t come.

“It’s good to be prepared,” said Varela. “If we’d make less food, we’d have too many people.”

A trickle of families came out Monday to receive food Clayton Schools were distributing to the community after closing its physical buildings because of the coronavirus.

Karen Seay, nutrition manager at North Clayton Middle School, said response to the distribution was moderate at the 10 sites around the south metro community as it kicked off with breakfast early Monday. But she said she expected more people to participate as the effort became more widely known over the next few days.

“Everybody had somebody this morning, but it wasn’t a lot yet,” she said. “The largest group was about 15 at one site.”

The county sent emails about the distribution and used its social media to reach out, Clayton Superintendent Morcease Beasley said Monday. Other efforts will include putting information about the distribution on school marquees and possibly taking buses into communities to give the food out directly.

Kenyatta Veasey stopped by North Clayton Middle School with her son Jordan Woods, 10, to pick up a lunch meal, which included carrots, an apple, broccoli and an orange.

“I think it’s good because some parents might have to work and are not able to fix lunches for the kids so it’s good that they will have at least have something to eat,” she said.

Antoine Lambert and his daughter Lily, 7, said the distribution demonstrated that the school system supports the community.

“They are taking a chance to be out here,” Lambert said. “And because of them taking the step to do this, I thought it was important for me to meet them halfway and come out and enjoy the food that they provide.”

Reporters Adrianne Murchison, Leon Stafford, Kristal Dixon, Vanessa McCray, Arlinda Broady and Marlon Walker contributed to this story.