LAURINBURG — The Scotland County Summer Meals Program is gearing up for its 10th season of providing free meals to children — and this summer, it’s got a new set of wheels.
Adding “Wheelie,” a Ford B700 school bus retrofitted to serve as a mobile cafeteria, to the traditional sites on the program’s map is the fruition of a goal set by Scotland County Schools’ assistant child nutrition director, Anita Starling. She got the idea from a program in New Bern.
“They rolled it out, and that was the first one I saw, and I thought we can do that in our county,” said Starling. “With all the resources we have here in the county, surely we can do this. At that same time they rolled out the grant and I thought, oh yeah. We’ve got this.”
With a $3,000 grant from the Share Our Strength No Kid Hungry Action Center, the program purchased the surplus bus from the county. More than 30 hours of painting by the school system’s transportation department later, and with a switch from rows of bench seats to cafeteria tables lining the aisle, “Wheelie” is ready to hit the road.
The bus will start the summer stationed near Sixth Street in East Laurinburg. Though the bus seats some 30 children at one time, it can serve more in the hour-long lunch period as they rotate off.
“Our goal is to feed as many kids as we can in that community, and we’ll see how it works there,” Starling said. “If it proves to be a good point for us, we’ll stay there. But if it’s not, then we’ll just move to another site. Maybe Gibson, because there’s not a feeding site there, but there’s a lot of children over there.”
A partnership between the Scotland County Schools child nutrition department and the Restoring Hope Center, Scotland County Summer Meals Program is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The program fed more than 23,000 meals in the summer of 2015, averaging 500 daily.
Meals are prepared at Scotland High School Monday through Thursday and on Fridays Restoring Hope provides cold lunches with assistance from the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina.
Each year, the program averages about 20 feeding sites throughout the county, primarily at church and school camp activities and at mobile sites at McDuffie Village, McIntosh Apartments, and Tara Village.
“Currently we have 17 registered and we’d be glad to have more, but even to get those sites fed we need more volunteers,” Starling said.
As well over half of the students attending Scotland County Schools qualify to receive school lunch for free or at reduced cost due to their families’ income levels, the school system now provides breakfast and lunch for free to all students through the USDA Community Eligibility Program.
Using its new cafeteria on wheels, the summer meals program hopes to reach children it has been unable to serve in the past.
“There are children throughout the community who do not have access to the inner city, that are usually sometimes on the far outreaches of the county and in pockets where they cannot come into the city to reach the churches and the school sites,” Starling said.
For more information about the Scotland County Summer Meals Program or to volunteer, call Starling at 910-277-4459 ext. 3338.
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.