BY KAREN CAMPBELL
Weakley County Schools Communications Director
WEAKLEY COUNTY (August 27) – Though classrooms closed due to COVID-19 March 16, 2020, the entrances to Weakley County Schools’ kitchens were consistently in use throughout the spring and summer. For 21 weeks, the Nutrition Department – aided by teachers, education assistants, principals, bus drivers, School Resource Officers and volunteers – served 420, 256 breakfasts and lunches at locations throughout the county.
As classes resumed under strict social-distancing guidelines, the same focus on safety and health is driving the development of customized meal distribution plans for each campus.
School board members and county health officials praised the monumental accomplishment of non-stop meal preparation, distribution, and, in some cases, delivery, that began when schools closed in the spring and continued until classes resumed August 17, 2020.
“We were impressed but not surprised with the efficiency and effectiveness of our closure and then summer meal distribution plan,” said Steve Vantrease, School Board Chair. “Our cafeterias consistently respond to the nutritional needs of our students. The fact they made sure every student in the county who needed a meal had one is reflective of their ongoing commitment.”
In reviewing the Nutrition Department’s plans for the return to in-school meal service, Ronnie Lewis, Environmental Health Specialist with the Weakley County Department of Health, reflected on the staff’s record of attention to safety.
“I was impressed with the obvious planning and thought that went into formulating a working plan that could be implemented to assure safe wholesome food would be served to the students and faculty of Weakley County Schools,” he noted.
“It was obvious to me that these ladies were truly aware that their plan could help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and still provide a safe environment for the students and faculty of our schools. I think that thoughtful planning and implementation of the plan is what it will take for our life to maybe someday return to normal,” Lewis added.
Keeping up with the guidance from local, state and national sources regarding meal preparation safety has been the responsibility of the Nutrition Department Director Trista Snider. As the benefits of social distancing were shared with school systems, school administrators joined in enforcing masks and maintaining a distance of six feet or interactions of less than 10 minutes for the drive-through distribution.
“Our staff receive perfect scores for cleanliness from the health department on a regular basis,” said Snider. “And when we become aware of any new understanding regarding sanitizing surfaces or other COVID-related precautions, we incorporate them immediately. We want our students and their families to know that they can enjoy our free breakfasts and nutritious lunches without worry,” Snider added.
Assisting Snider are cafeteria managers Tracy Atnipp, Greenfield; Amy Clanton, Martin Primary; Cathie Spain, Westview; Janna Scott, Dresden K-8; Keisha Stafford, Dresden High; Kelli Anderson, Gleason; Lindsey Joyner, Martin Elementary; Lisa Williams, Sharon; and Patty Davis, Martin Middle. Brenda Scott and Tammy Craddock provide additional support.
A look back at the summer reveals the learn/adapt/do philosophy that has guided the county’s response to nutrition since March. Initially, the meals were provided daily and at schools. To reach a larger audience, additional locations were employed in some of the more remote areas of the county. Soon, buses and school administrators, with the help of staff and volunteers, added home delivery to those families who had no transportation for meal pick-up. When storage and refrigeration challenges were met, the daily distribution moved to twice weekly.
“Through it all, we depended on our cafeteria managers to inform and encourage their workers, our school principals to enlist helpers and manage the distribution points, and our communities to step in as sources for everything from plastic bags to volunteers,” said Snider. “We could not have accomplished what we did this summer without working together.”
Among the individuals, businesses and churches Snider and principals praised for the summer efforts are Bro. Alan Trull, Bro. Paul Conquest, Rebecca Trevathan, Terri McDaniel, Megan Mitchell, WalMart in Martin, various locations of Dollar General, Rural King, Tate’s Grocery, Pillowville Country Store, Cash Advance, Mitchell Trucking, City of Dresden, Palmersville Fire Department, Sidonia Fire Department, Martin Housing Authority, Jolly Springs Baptist, Ruthville Baptist and Palmersville Baptist.
To maintain social distancing in the schools, each campus initiated a plan that works best for them, explained Snider of the new protocols that has some children eating meals in their classrooms and others in the cafeteria or other larger locations.
“We are making adjustments as we see what works best,” Snider added. “We hope to have all schools in a position to enjoy the options for meals they’ve enjoyed in the past very soon. We don’t want anything to stand in the way of the nutritional needs of each of our students.”
In her “Morning Message” email to the Tennessee Department of Education last week, Commissioner Penny Schwinn wrote the following: “I want to share this great video that recently came out of Weakley County Schools. On March 16th, doors to schools shut, but by the very next day, their cafeteria staff were back to ensure children throughout the county received meals. After 21 weeks, they totaled 420,256 meals distributed. Their nutrition staff, teachers, principals, education assistants, bus drivers, SROs (School Resource Officers), volunteers and community partners all pitched in to continue supporting kids. Thank you, Weakley County, for your dedication and commitment to students!”
The video is featured on Weakley County Schools YouTube channel.