Gulf Shores School System Child Nutrition Program serves meals to kids under 18
School administrators were already formulating summer feeding program when pandemic hit
By John Mullen
When Gulf Shores started its own school system in June of 2019, Superintendent Dr. Matt Akin wanted to hit the ground running including getting a summer lunch program started.
“The day that we took over, June 1, the freezer at the high school went out that morning,” Akin said. “So, it’s been kind of an uphill battle with our lunchrooms. One of the things Child Nutrition Program Coordinator Tanya Hill and I talked about from the beginning was a summer feeding program. We have the grant for elementary school and we got it for the middle school where we going to have kids there in the summer.”
When the current COVID-19 pandemic caused the shutdown of schools statewide the city went looking for funding to get through the rest of the calendar school year.
“How that ties in is when COVID-19 kicked in and the closures happened the feds came in and said if you’re doing a summer feeding program you can start feeding now,” Akin said. “Well, our application hadn’t been approved and so Tanya got on the ball and had it approved in about 48 hours. What that does is then the federal government will support us and paying for the meals so that we can serve our kids in the summertime. They’re kind of treating this like it’s an extended summer.”
The program will be in place until classes start again, Akin said. He also said that Hill has been the driving force behind the program with teachers volunteer and lunchroom workers putting in hours to help out as well.
“Tanya put it together,” Akin said. “We found out on a Friday that we were dismissing the next week and so within a week we had our program up and going. The first week we just started serving grab-and-go just from the high school. She had volunteers come in and helping with lunch. Our lunchroom ladies, we deemed them essential employees and just a few of them are working a day, just a few hours a day.”
It started with just a grab-and-go site at the high school and about 65 kids a day were being fed. They’d get a hot lunch and something to take home for breakfast the next day. But they felt some kids were being left out.
“Tanya and I talked and looked at sites where we could go to the kids because we knew a lot of the kids were having trouble getting to us,” Akin said. “We’ve expanded those sites down Fort Morgan Road, the Cultural Center and over by Cobb Theatres. We’re going to about five different sites so our numbers have just steadily grown.”
The program has served as many as 415 kids a day, and although the average has dropped to 375 students now, more than 25,000 total meals have been served.
“We are very pleased that the program has been able to meet the needs of the community,’’ Akin said.
When the initial order came down from Gov. Kay Ivey further tightening restrictions, Hill began looking for ways to lessen the contact between volunteers and those picking up meals.
“We switched it this week because of the shelter-in-place order by the governor to where we do Monday, Wednesday, Friday,” Hill said. “On Monday we give them a hot meal, we give them a cold meal for Tuesday plus breakfast for Tuesday and breakfast for Wednesday morning. We give them four meals on Monday and four meals on Wednesday. We give them a Friday hot lunch and then we give them breakfast for Saturday.”
Akin said being an independent and small school system made it easier for he and staff to get the program moving quickly.
“I think it’s a good example of being our own school system that we were able to step up,” Akin said. “Just within a couple of days we were able to get this program going. It’s an example of probably in the past we wouldn’t have been able to serve the community like this. We’ve got a lot of people out of work and a lot of people in the service industry that aren’t working. It makes me feel good to be a part of a school system that’s really stepping up for the community.”
Any child under 18 from south Baldwin can stop by and get meals from the school system’s drop off locations.
“Obviously, it’s put into place to serve our students but the federal guidelines let us serve any child in the community 18 and under,” Akin said. “A family had contacted her from Foley and said we saw about your lunches. Most of the kids, obviously, are in Gulf Shores but we’re here to serve the whole community. Orange Beach is certainly included in that.”
The program started with five grab-and-go locations. And three locations – St. Andrews by the Sea on Ft Morgan Road, Gulf Shores Cultural Center on County Road and Gulf Shores High School will continue serving meals from 11:30 a.m. ‘til noon on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.