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School system mobilizes to make sure students are fed

GRADY COUNTY School System personnel are manning food distribution points at six schools and 16 remote locations. Cairo High School Principal Chris Lokey, right, is supervising the distribution efforts at C.H.S. The system will continue to offer free meals to students during the school closure through April 3.

With Grady County Schools shuttered until April 13, the focus has shifted from reading, writing and arithmetic to mobilizing staff to distribute nutritious breakfasts and lunches to local students who otherwise might not have food to eat.

Last Friday, it was announced that Grady County Schools would be closed from March 16 through March 30, but on Monday, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp ordered all Georgia schools closed through March 31 in an attempt to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus. With Grady County Schools already slated to be closed April 6-10 for spring break, Dr. Kermit Gilliard, superintendent of Grady County Schools, decided Tuesday that instead of reopening the schools only to close three days later the system would resume operation on April 13, unless otherwise directed by the governor.
Under the leadership of Dr. Gilliard and Mallory Barrett, school nutrition program director for Grady County, the school system has established 16 remote locations throughout the county where children can go to receive a free breakfast and lunch. Parents and guardians may also purchase the meals for themselves for $5 each, cash only.
In addition to the 16 sites, meals are also being distributed at all of the county’s schools, with the exception of Southside Elementary School. According to officials, the decision was made not to operate a distribution site at Southside since it is so close to Cairo High School.
“We realize in many instances there are children in our community who may not have nutritious meals to eat without them being provided by our school system. As long as our schools remain closed, we will continue to do our best to provide all children with a breakfast and lunch,” Superintendent Gilliard said.
Tuesday was the opening day of the unprecedented feeding effort and 663 breakfasts and 663 lunches were picked up by those needing food.
“I am extremely grateful to the staff that made lunch and breakfast available this morning to 663 students. I hope others will take advantage of this opportunity. The employees of Grady County Schools always step up when called upon to serve the needs of our children,” Dr. Gilliard said.
In addition to S.N.P. Director Barrett and S.N.P. staff members, bus drivers, school administrators, coaches, band directors, and other 11-month and 12-month contracted personnel are assisting in the distribution of food each weekday at least through April 3.
The current plan is to distribute the two meals at each location beginning at 9 a.m. School system personnel will man the remote locations for a minimum of 30 minutes.
Tuesday’s distribution results at the remote locations ranged from a high of 83 at Karema Estates to only three at the Jackie Robinson Boys & Girls Club at Holder Park.
At the individual schools, the largest number of students served on Tuesday was 90 at Eastside and the fewest were served at Whigham Elementary School, which reported 23 meals being distributed.
“We will evaluate on Friday and make necessary changes for the following week. We may need to adjust some sites, or the time of delivery may be adjusted. We noticed today out in the neighborhoods that many people were still in at 9 a.m. We want this to be a benefit for our students and parents. We will post any changes on the system and school Facebook pages and with The Cairo Messenger as well as issuing an all-call to parents and guardians,” Dr. Gilliard said.
The breakfast meal kits included two grain items and a fruit juice pouch. The sack lunch included a sandwich, chips, diced peaches, fresh vegetables or veggie juice and a milk, according to Mrs. Barrett.
School officials require a child be present to receive meals and meals may be purchased by adults for $5 cash.
The 16 remote locations include:
Gordon Heights Baptist Church, 1351 Fifth St. S.E.
Belcher Circle Mobile Home Park, Belcher Circle
Southern Terrace Park, First Street, S.W.
Midway Baptist Church, 2389 GA 93 South
Karema Estates, Joyner Road and 20th Street S.E. intersection
Johnson Meat Market, U.S. 84 East
Tired Creek Boulevard neighborhood, behind Mr. Chick
First Assembly of God, 495 12th Ave. N.E.
T&J Country Store, 4103 GA 111 North
Live Oak/Ridge Road area, 300 Live Oak Rd.
Calvary Post Office, 6468 GA 111 South
Whigham mobile home park, 3621 U.S. 84 West
Jackie Robinson Boys & Girls Club, Holder Park
South Cairo mobile home park, 1744 GA 111 South
Reno Volunteer Fire Department, 4458 GA 111 South
New Jerusalem Church, 969 Ninth St. N.W.
If a child needs food, but cannot go to a school or one of the remote sites, parents and guardians should call the school system central office at 229-377-3701.
“This is an unprecedented situation, but we are all pulling together to work through it. Providing nutritious meals to our students is one of our primary missions as a school system in a low-income, rural school district. If you know of someone who needs food and may not be aware of this outreach program please share the news with them,” Dr. Gilliard said.

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