As Schools Close, Rural Community Steps Up to Keep Students Fed

Missouri Meals AgDay
A bus that normally is full of students, is now delivering meals to students in need. Hardin-Central School District was forced to close over COVID-19 concerns, meaning some students may have been without enough food. ( Tyne Morgan )

Jerry McGraw travels his bus route daily, but for the past week, he’s been driving his route without any students inside. Stop after stop, he’s delivering more than a familiar face to students who are wondering if they’ll even get to finish this school year at school. McGraw is also delivering a necessity that students and families thought they may have to do without.

“What we're doing is we're delivering sack lunches,” says McGraw, a bus driver for Hardin-Central Schools in Hardin, Mo. “We're seeing who is available to receive those sack lunches and find out who needs them.”

McGraw is one of several patriots in this small town, going beyond their typical weekday job.

“We're utilizing the buses to go around and serve these sack lunches to the needy children,” he explains.

McGraw is one of several at the schools stepping up in a time of need.

“That's one service that we felt like was imperative that we could continue to offer our students so are in need of this,” says  Trey Cavanah, Superintendent at Hardin-Central Schools. “Yesterday was our first day we had over 30% participation of our student body. So, it was a very successful program.”

After the school made the decision to close due to COVID-19 concerns, the school board knew the district needed to act, and act fast. Hardin-Central is a small school, with just over 200 students K-12, but one that has 50% of its students on free or reduced lunch.

“A lot of students and parents rely on the school for providing food for their child or children,” sas Cavanah. “We want to make sure that we reach our children during this time that they're away from school, make sure that they have a healthy meal to eat. We also include breakfast items in the lunches that we send home

The school is answering a common call for a student body that boasts small numbers, but a lot of pride.

“Luckily, we decided that we would use our cooks, our bus drivers, even some of our hourly staff to help prepare the meals to set them up for distribution,” he says. “Even though that's not in their original job descriptions, it's allowed them to continue to work for the district and be compensated for their services that they're providing.”

One of those who stepped up and has carried much of the work, is head cook Shannon Minor.

“I am filling bags so that we can deliver to the students that are in need or want a lunch,” she says while preparing lunches for students.

Her biggest concern wasn’t about her job or what they would do with all the food already sitting on the shelves in the kitchen; it was about the students who wouldn’t be attending school for weeks.

“I’m worried about feeding the kids,” says Minor as tears filled her eyes. “I’m just worried that they’re going to get a meal.”

Minor’s grave concern about students’ well-being is proving being head cook or a bus driver for Hardin-Central isn’t just a job, it’s a second family; a family that extends beyond the school halls. 

“It’s just very important for this community,” says McGraw while driving his route and delivering meals. “It shows everybody that we care about one another. It's a very good thing.”

The response from students and families has been full of gratitude and relief, now knowing how long the school closure will last.

“Our plan is to keep preparing and distributing meals as much as we can,” says Cavanah. “We may also change the program to maybe look at sending unprepared food home to families who would like to prepare it themselves for the course of the week. Right now we can only offer a limited amount of food in our sack lunches we're sending home. If we decide to do something more long term, hopefully we'd be sending unprepared food home so that those families could prepare for themselves.”

As the superintendents and administrations for schools around the country have some heavy decisions to make in the coming weeks, this school knows students need to get fed.

“It's a wonderful thing that the school provides these meals for these kids that are in need,” adds McGraw.

A community rallying together to feed one another, giving families one less worry in the midst of hazy times.