After years of careful planning and hard work, Henderson County Public Schools launched their Meals on the Bus program with an official ribbon cutting on Wednesday, June 14. To celebrate the first summer of the program, a small gathering of involved county officials came together to admire the bus and enjoy a sample platter of the summer menu.
Hunger is a consistent problem for students during the summer. Principal Luke Manuel of Hendersonville Middle School says that over half of his student body benefits from free and reduced lunch programs, and that this statistic is consistent across the county. To feed students who depend on school meals once school’s out for the summer, HCPS has operated public feeding sites through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program, offering free lunches to children ages two to 18 – in addition to a total of 28 closed feeding sites at each elementary school and youth service organizations.
The Meals on the Bus mobile food site will allow HCPS to reach students where they are, said HCPS Child Nutrition Supervisor Amanda Stansbury, MHS, RD/LDN. Making six stops throughout the county each weekday, the bus will serve lunch to children between the ages of 2 and 18, making a substantial difference in how much access students have to food over the summer.
Meals on the Bus already has an impressive list of benefactors. The initial $2,000 for the purchase of the bus came from Gillilandscaping & Grading, which is owned in part by Tonya Gilliland, a parent coordinator at Sugarloaf Elementary who recognized the need for a mobile food site through her involvement with the school system. The Community Foundation of Henderson County issued a $10,000 grant for renovating the bus.
Removal of the bus’ original seating was completed by the HCPS Transportation Department at the district’s bus garage, and North Henderson High’s carpentry class installed the plywood floor base in the bus. Stansbury and Director of Child Nutrition Robert Rolfe taped the windows of the bus’ interior, so the Transportation Department could paint the inside walls, and Printville donated the exterior vinyl wrap, designed by North Henderson student Christian Martinez-Maya.
“It’s a fantastic project for rehabilitation,” said Karen Brown, the director of Correction Enterprises. “When inmates see a project like this that lets them get involved in the community, it gives them a sense of pride and contribution.”
Mobile home park Alpine Woods Resort is one of the bus’ six stops, and property manager Erika Conner said she is glad to be a part of the program, and plans to have her own children join the others from the park during lunchtime.
“These kids need food,” Conner said. “Having access like this and making it mobile is huge.”
Stansbury has overseen the project since its inception in hopes of better serving the student body, even when they aren’t in school. She said the support the program has received both from inside and outside the school system is a great sign that the Meals on the Bus will be a success.
“We’re seeing an outpouring of gratitude from the community,” said Stansbury. “It’s amazing to see everyone being on the same page and wanting the same outcome.”
The Meals on the Bus will operate Monday-Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. beginning on June 19, making 20-minute stops at King Creek, Dodd Meadows, Shorty Collins, Leisure Lane, Sugarloaf Apartments, and Alpine Woods. For a detailed schedule, visit our Summer Food Service Program page.
– By Jake Browning, Western Carolina University
Public Information Office Intern, HCPS