Clinch County School: A Mission to Feed Students

“We immediately thought about how to feed the students. I sent an email asking for volunteers and received a great response. I didn’t have to beg for help—even had enough for a sub-list.” — Jason Bell

Jason Bell, director of operations for Clinch County School System, and Butch Smith, bus driver

When the end of the school year came two months early, schools across Georgia (and the nation) jumped into action to make sure their students didn’t go hungry.

More than a deviation in classroom instruction, Jason Bell, director of operations for Clinch County School System, knew the early school closing would be a hardship for many students and their families.

“We immediately thought about how to feed the students,” says Bell. “I sent an email asking for volunteers and received a great response. I didn’t have to beg for help—even had enough for a sub-list.”

In Clinch County, where more than 50 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced meals, an unexpected school closure means the majority of students have difficulty securing breakfast and lunch.

From mid-March to the end of May, the Clinch County School System prepared and delivered 74,400 meals (combined breakfasts and lunches) to school-aged children.

In compliance with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s nutritional guidelines, the lunch portions included a serving of fruit, vegetable, protein, whole grain, and dairy.

Through a generous donation from Robert Varnedoe, president of Lee Container in Clinch County, each student received up to three pints of fresh blueberries a week.

A win-win for farmers and the students, Varnedoe purchased approximately 26,280 pints of blueberries from local farmers for students in Clinch and Brooks counties.

After the school’s nutritional workers prepared the meals, about a dozen teachers, coaches, and administrative staff loaded the breakfasts and lunches into about 800 paper sacks.

While buses weren’t carrying students back and forth to school, they played a big part in making sure children had enough food for the day.

“After loading up the buses, we said a prayer and started delivering,” says Bell. “We covered the entire county and made sure the kids that needed meals got them.”

Bell, who helped deliver meals, says the best part was seeing the excitement on the children’s faces as the school bus came down their streets. “The buses would blow their horns so the kids would come out to get the sacks. The horns were used so much we had to replace a few of them.”

Providing the lunches, and especially delivering them, was not mandated by the state. “This was something we knew needed to be done. It was a positive impact on our community.”

Heather Bell, Clinch County School instructional coach

As the school year transitioned to summer break, the feeding program continued on a smaller scale during June.

“Typically, the summer is always a hardship on many of our families,” says Bell, who has worked for Clinch County School System for 24 years as an English and

Georgia history teacher and administrator. “We did seven breakfasts and lunches in one bag, and they picked them up on Wednesday at the high school.”

In June, the feeding program transitioned to drive-thru service for families to pick-up a week’s worth of meals on Wednesday. It started with 500 bags and quickly jumped to 900 bags, each containing breakfast and lunch meals for seven days—totaling 12,600 meals a week for local students.

For parents stressed about having enough food to feed their children, the school meals gave them one less thing to worry about.

“It was almost like mission work. Many of our teachers grew up here and came back home to teach because they love their community,” says Bell. “This wouldn’t have been possible without our teachers and staff, and support from Superintendent Lori James, the Clinch County School Board, local businesses, and people throughout the community that worked to make it all happen.”

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