Students and seniors being fed during pandemic

By St. Clair Murraine

Outlook staff writer

It would seem that with all the experience Second Harvest has distributing food to the needy that it could handle providing food for school children while the coronavirus is keeping them out of the classroom.

However, serving 10,000 breakfast and lunches would be a bit too much, said Monique Ellsworth, CEO of Second Harvest.

“This is not something that any single agency, any single city, any single community, any single state would be able to manager alone,” Ellsworth said at a press conference last week. “This is something that has to be done by the community for the community.”

Ellsworth stated her observation during a press conference held at the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church’ Family Life Center. It was also announced that the Center will be one of several locations where lunch will be served to children that rely on free or low-cost breakfast and lunches at Leon County Schools. 

Students in Leon County will have classes remotely through the rest of the semester, joining schools that are shuttered across the country. The feeding initiative is expected to continue through the end of the school year.

Monique Ellsworth (left), CEO of Second Harvest of the Big Bend, is joined RB Holmes, pastor at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church; Berneice Cox, president and CEO of the United Way of the Big Bend; and Keith Bowers, chairman of the board for Elder Care Services of the Big Bend, at a recent press conference.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

Meanwhile, the Urban League also announced that it has joined in the feeding campaign, which also involves the United Way and Leon County Schools. In addition to the Family Life Center, where lunches will be served from noon to 1:30 on weekdays, food is also taken to children in low-income neighborhoods.

Leon country has more than 14,000 students who receive breakfast and lunch free or at a reduced price. In addition to the effort by Second Harvest, LCS superintendent Rocky Hanna has gotten the U.S. Department of Agriculture through waivers to use federal money to continue operating its Food Service Program while students aren’t in school.

The state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services administers the USDA school food program. Most of the children who participate in program attend Title 1 schools. Title 1 is a federal designation given to public school in low-income neighborhoods. 

In addition to the Second Harvest effort, Jimmy John’s started to offer free Little John sandwiches last Friday to school age children. Students can get a free sandwich Monday-Friday from 11 a.m. to 1:30pm.

Rev. RB Holmes, who facilitated the press conference, also announced an initiative to assist Elder Care Services with feeding senior citizen during the crisis caused by COVID-19. Senior citizens are believed to be most vulnerable during the global pandemic, which was reported to have reached Leon County last week.

Keith Bowers, chairman of the board for Elder Care Services of the Big Bend, used the press conference to appeal for volunteers. Holmes, pastor at Bethel, echoed Bowers’ sentiment.

“We believe a united front will really go a long way to let the community know that we are one community and we are all in this together.” Holmes said. “Obviously this is uncharted territory. 

“We have never seen anything like this. But with the community coming together; the church community, the faith-based community and our non-profits, I think people need to know we don’t want to leave anyone behind.”

Making sure of that, though, will take more volunteers than Elder Care has now, Bowers said. The agency feeds over 250 senior every day, traveling 36 routes to operate its Meals on Wheels program.

Thus, the need for more hands on board.

“Where the rubber hits the road for us is with volunteers,” Bowers said. “We will partner with any organization that is willing to roll up their sleeves and come help us.”

United Way of the Big Bend also is partnering in the feeding initiative. Bernice Cox, president and CEO of the organization, said it’s focused on the elderly and children who live in food-insecure neighborhoods.

She also said that United Way has set up a fund-raising campaign just to assist in taking care of the needy.

“This has to be fluid,” she said. “This is unprecedented territory for all of us and our community.”

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