Katie Walters, CFNN Editor/Reporter

In light of recent events, we’ve had an entire community come together to support each other through them. One of the major ongoing operations is the distribution of free meals across Cumberland County. With help from Child Nutrition Services, cafeteria workers, parents, students, and volunteers, this system has become an essential part of many people’s lives during this pandemic.

Beth Maynard is the Executive Director of Child Nutrition Services here in Cumberland County. She’s one of the leaders of this project, organizing everything from getting the meals, preparing and packaging them, and distributing them to children across the entire county. I spoke with her to learn how every part comes together to make this possible.

Just recently, the distribution days have changed to Monday, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, two full days of meals will be given, to add up to a total of 5 full days of meals provided. 

All meals served are completely free. During a normal school year, only students under the Free and Reduced Lunch programs qualify for these meals. Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture considers all children age 18 and under eligible for these meals. “Just like in the summertime, we offer all kids 18 and younger free meals. It’s the exact same program. So every time we serve a meal to a child, the U.S. Government pays for it,” said Maynard. 

Starting off with receiving the food, it comes from the same suppliers that the schools were supplied food from during the school year. Their main supplier is Sysco, and they deliver to the schools where the food pickup stations are. There’s also been much help from community restaurants, food banks, and grocery stores to get the food products they need. “We’ve worked with a lot of community partners to help add additional food we need and make it available to the students and families,” said Maynard.

Still, some regulations are in place for food preparation. “There are certain rules such as it can’t have too much salt, and it has to have a whole grain, things like that. We have to follow their rules because they’re paying for it,” she said. So, the meals consist of foods similar to what schools would serve regularly. “We are trying to provide mostly hot entrees, like hot sandwiches,” she said. With the new meal distribution days set, frozen meals, such as chicken nuggets, are going to be given with heating instructions to prepare at home.

About 10,500 meals are given to children in Cumberland County each day. “The week before spring break, we were doing around 15,000 meals,” said Maynard. There isn’t a certain way to calculate how many meals they’ll need each day, but they do base it off demand. “We do what’s called batch cooking. So, we cook so many, and as that starts to get low, we cook more. That’s a good thing about being able to serve it right there where we cook it. We can continue to cook as more people ask for meals.”

As for receiving the meals, there are two methods – pickup and delivery. There are 16 pickup locations at schools across Cumberland County (listed below), as well as 15 buses that deliver. They’re mostly delivering to low-income areas, housing developments, as well as community recreation centers.

One of the major obstacles faced was a shortage of to-go trays to put the meals. “We closed so fast that we didn’t have time to get enough to-go trays, and it was very difficult to find them,” said Maynard. Luckily, there were several volunteers who helped find the products they needed.

Through these uncertain times, there is one thing for certain – the strength of a community and their ability to come together to get through them. “Even students have tried to help,” said Maynard. There is always a way to find something positive as well. “Bus drivers have said when they deliver meals, some of the younger kids run-up to the buses to see them. It’s nice, especially when it’s their own students that they teach,” she said.

Listed below are the locations for each of the food pickup stations. For more information, visit ccs.k12.nc.us. Thank you to everyone who makes this possible!

Alderman Road Elementary, 2860 Alderman Rd, Fayetteville, NC 28306 Cape Fear High School, 4762 Clinton Rd, Fayetteville, NC 28312 C. Wayne Collier Elementary, 3522 Sturbridge Dr, Hope Mills, NC 28348 Elizabeth Cashwell Elementary, 2970 Legion Rd, Fayetteville, NC 28306 College Lakes Elementary, 4963 Rosehill Rd, Fayetteville, NC 28311 Cumberland Road Elementary, 2700 Cumberland Rd, Fayetteville, NC 28306 Douglas Byrd Middle, 1616 Ireland Dr, Fayetteville, NC 28304 E. E. Smith High, 1800 Seabrook Rd, Fayetteville, NC 28301 Lake Rim Elementary, 1455 Hoke Loop Rd, Fayetteville, NC 28314 Lewis Chapel Middle, 2150 Skibo Rd, Fayetteville, NC 28314 Montclair Elementary, 555 Glensford Ave, Fayetteville, NC 28314 Morganton Road Elementary, 102 Bonanza Dr, Fayetteville, NC 28303 Reid Ross High School, 3200 Ramsey St, Fayetteville, NC 28301 Sherwood Park Elementary, 2115 Hope Mills Rd, Fayetteville, NC 28304 Walker Spivey Elementary, 500 Fisher St, Fayetteville, NC 28301 W. T. Brown Elementary, 2522 Andrews Church Rd, Spring Lake, NC 28390