The wheels on the Lunch Box buses are rolling again through rural East Tennessee thanks in part to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans®.
Our partner, Of One Accord (OOA), headquartered in the small town of Rogersville, reported that its summer feeding program started June 1, consisting of two “retired” school buses modified to be mobile cafeterias bringing lunch each weekday to hundreds of children living in remote, small communities located in the hills and hollers of Appalachia.
But, notes OOA Executive Director Sheldon Livesay, it’s been a challenging past few years.
“COVID-19 has seemed to knock everything out of balance,” he told us. “In 2020, 2021 and now in 2022, our schools (in Hawkins and Hancock counties) are trying to do catch-up on students being behind and are doing mandatory summer school in June.
“The good news is all school-age children are being fed.”
However, Sheldon knows there are many children below school age who are at home now and “our challenge during the one month of summer school is to find pockets of these children we can deliver meals to.”
He also noted that prior to the coronavirus pandemic restrictions, children were required to board the buses – modified with tables and facing seats similar to a dining room booth – to enjoy their lunch with their siblings and neighborhood friends.
“During COVID-19, rules were changed and the state forbid us to have contact with the children in 2020 and 2021,” reported Sheldon, noting that drivers used vans instead of the buses to save on fuel costs and just stopped at the same locations and handed the meals to the children.
“This year we are again required to use our buses and have the children board them to eat. We like that.”
Sheldon also reported that he was fortunate to not only find a bus driver who could work this month, but one who is familiar with the region and knows where concentrations of preschool children would be located, including mobile home parks, a small city park and a community swimming pool.
Sheldon also had more good news – the woman who developed the Lunch Box bus program “has come back this summer to work with us” and will be riding along next week to recommend any fine-tuning if needed.
In 2019, the Lunch Box bus program served 12,244 meals to children, and despite the drop off in numbers in 2020 and 2021, Sheldon is hopeful that this year the numbers will once again be on the rise.
And, on a side note, Sheldon commented that Of One Accord’s Lunch Box bus program has drawn attention as a model summer meals program for rural areas, where unlike in urban and suburban areas children can simply walk a few blocks to their school or community centers for a free, healthy meal all summer long the lunches must be brought to them.
“Organizations from around the nation, including Feeding America’s Food Banks, and even one from overseas have come to ride the Lunch Box bus and promote it as a ‘best-practice.”’
In addition, Sheldon wants to ensure our supporters know that “Through the amazing help of Americans Helping Americans®, we have been able to fulfill this mission each year without any interruption.”