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School meals on wheels: Kingsport buses deliver free breakfast, lunch

Rick Wagner • Mar 20, 2020 at 10:45 AM

KINGSPORT — Kingsport City Schools Bus. No. 14 went up and down the side streets and along Lynn Garden Drive Thursday delivering lunches to the students of Kennedy Elementary School and others 18 or younger.

Methodically the bus stopped at homes with known students or where young people were waiting, although at some locations no one came out and the bus moved on.

For a while the bus was running just ahead of U.S. Mail delivery.

Back at Kennedy, cafeteria employees handed out lunches to drive-thru customers, while in the office school employees gave out information packets for at-home learning.

For now, this is the new normal for K-12 education as well as new ground for students, parents, educators and the public faced with the novel coronavirus outbreak and ways to slow its spread.

HOW IS PARTICIPATION?

“It’s growing every day,” Kennedy Principal Janice Irvin said of the free meals, distributed at the school and via bus to all 18 or younger, regardless of residency or enrollment. Breakfast and lunch won’t be provided next week because that is spring break, but neighboring Sullivan County will distribute meals then. Come the week of March 30, both the city and county school systems will have free feedings.

Kennedy is a CEP (Community Eligibility Provision) school, one of five in the city. The others are Roosevelt, Jackson and Lincoln elementaries, and Sevier Middle. At those schools, because of the preponderance of free and reduced meal eligibility and income levels, all students are eligible for free meals. The difference now is the way those are delivered, at least through April 3. Drive-thru distribution is at 11 city schools.

Mother Alexis Moore, who had fourth-grader Ashlynn Necessary and rising kindergarten student Sophia Hensley get lunches Thursday, said so far she’s kept her job and understands the need for the suspension of in-person education in schools.

“It’s scary, really,” Moore said after she and the two daughters met the bus on a sidewalk of Lynn Garden Drive near their home. “Should they go back to school? When they get everything handled, yes.”

HOW LONG WILL IT BE?

Irvin said when school will resume is a question nobody can answer right now. Kingsport, Sullivan County and Bristol, Tenn., public schools won’t reopen earlier than Monday, April 6. 

KCS elementary students picked up learn-at-home packets Thursday and can continue to do so from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday. Middle and high school students can do online learning while schools are shut down for health concerns, and devices were available for pickup Thursday at Dobyns-Bennett.

“We just now got our free 60-day Wi-Fi thing,” said Dustie Phillips, a ninth-grader at D-B. Sister Brianna Phillips, a seventh-grader at Robinson Middle, and Sevier Middle sixth-grader Jamal Hale got a bus lunch delivered Thursday in Lynn Garden.

At another stop in Lynn Garden, Kennedy fifth-grader Jordan Miller had some concerns about transitioning from learning at school to learning at home.

“We’re getting ready to get her packet,” mother Miranda Avzate said as Bus. No. 14 pulled away to its next lunch delivery stop Thursday. “I love having her home.”

Jordan said, “I honestly would rather kind of do it at school.”

However, she added that she does see at least one advantage of learning at home: “I can be comfy.”