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SC News

Schools in SC Work to Find Solution for Food Insecurity

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The Noun Project via Wikimedia Commons

By the time the fifth or sixth car pulled up in front of York Road Elementary School on the evening of Aug. 2, Crosby Alderman knew his responsibilities like the back of his hand.

The excitable second-grader, with bleach blonde hair and flip flops who's lived through more lost teeth (eight) than years of life (seven), knew his role. And he performed it well: He'd see a car pull up in front of him, grab two cloth bags filled with groceries and then use all his might to lug them off the ground and waddle to the vehicle's trunk.

"Why do you like carrying the bags?" his mother, Lee Ann Alderman, asked Crosby when he avoided the same question asked by a news reporter. Lee Ann's going to be a teacher at York Road in the fall, and she had accompanied Crosby (a current YRES student), Crosby's brother, Reid (11) and their aunt, Dana, to the Rock Hill school.

"Is it 'cause you like to use your muscles?" Lee Ann asked her son again.

Crosby hugged his mom's waist and nodded: "Yeah!"

"We're trying to teach them at an early age," Lee Ann then added, "that it's good to love and serve people."

Under an unrelenting sun, about 20 York Road teachers and Rock Hill Schools employees and other volunteers participated in one of the district's Mobile Pantry "drops," where families received free groceries provided by the Rock Hill school district and its longtime partner, Second Harvest Food Bank.

The Mobile Pantry program is part of a larger, school-district-wide effort to address community food insecurity — an issue that has affected Rock Hill and a substantial part of South Carolina, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Close to 60% of our students receive meal subsidies, and so that's more than half of our student population who need support with meals at school," said Serena Williams, the Rock Hill Schools' Coordinator of Community Services. "Our first mobile pantry visit was in the spring after seeing an increase in the number of families that needed nutritional support — we had an increase with our 'Back the Pack' (providing weekend meals) and just requests from families to help with that food insecurity need.

"And since we are part of the community, we wanted to be part of that solution."

This feeding effort is a personal one as well as a professional one for Williams, who said she needed food between school weeks and years. She said those programs growing up, although she didn't know it at the time, was like "someone investing in me."

"We don't know who we're raising," she said, "and it takes a village to raise them."

A single Mobile Pantry event brings about 10,000 pounds of food to a school and distributes the food to as many as 250 families in just a few hours. On Aug. 2, there was quite the culinary assortment: watermelons, cole slaw, chicken, bread, non-perishable food items like rice and cereal and other items.

This year, per Rock Hill school district spokesperson Lindsay Machak, the district has distributed more than 100,000 pounds of food — with more events scheduled through the fall.

"Kids need food," York Road Elementary principal Crystal Guyton said, adding, "So this is a very helpful event, and we're going to do another one in September."

And Mobile Pantry drops aren't the only way the district is keeping food accessible through the summer, Machak said. The district's summer feeding program, which kicked off June 28, has already served more than 18,900 meals to the community at three locations: Castle Heights Middle, Sullivan Middle and Ebenezer Avenue Elementary.

Each site offers free breakfast and lunch to children 18 and under. The sites also coordinate to provide free meals to kids at other organizations' summer camps, including local churches and the Boys and Girls Club of York County.

All of these efforts contribute to a shared objective.

"Our end goal is making sure our students come to school ready to learn," Williams said, "and if we have to provide meals to alleviate whatever concerns are going on outside of our control, we're willing to do that."