The school cafeteria is serving as the central kitchen for the Summer Feeding Program, which is being put on by Cartersville City Schools and serves children across the county. The program, which began May 25 and runs through July 23, has cafeteria workers preparing thousands of meals each weekday, which are then distributed to 49 sites across the county.
Locations such as churches, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Adairsville and Cartersville and other sites serve the meals, ranging from breakfast, lunch or snack, to their children there. While the program -- funded by the National School Lunch Program -- is aimed at feeding kids who might otherwise have little to eat during the day, any child under the age of 18 or handicapped and under the age of 21 is eligible to receive up to two meals a day at no cost.
"The intent is that there are a lot of children who are fed during the school year -- that's where they receive their primary nutrition," said Tracey Morris, Cartersville Schools' director of School Food Services. "This is the same requirements, the same program, and we get our reimbursement the same way, through the federal program. [It's just] the kids aren't in school, so we take the food to the children, or organizations help us take the food to the children.
"We're delivering five or six sites this year, which we haven't done before, but all the other sites, people come, buy their own gas, take their own time to come and pick the food up and deliver it," Morris added about the manpower needed to provide the meals, which also includes paid staff of 10 to 11 cafeteria workers and about 10 other staffers, including high school students. Staffers are charged with tasks such as bagging food, cleaning coolers that transport the food and more.
Some of the foods children may be served through the program include sandwiches, hamburgers or hot dogs, and pizza.
"It's a well-balanced meal," Morris said. "It's the National School Lunch Program, so it's a meat, a meat-alternate, a bread, a vegetable or fruit, and milk. When we first started -- we've been doing this for about four years now -- we were just primarily doing sandwiches, but we really got bored with that and decided to branch out, so now we do a hot entrée every day."
Last year's Summer Feeding Program saw an average of 5,500 meals prepared in a day. Morris said that so far this summer, the average is 6,300 a day.
That average is likely to lead to an increase over last year's overall total. In the summer of 2008, 76,555 meals were served; last year, 219,369. Morris said this year's number could pass the 250,000 mark; the current recession, she added, is a big factor fueling the larger numbers.
"Almost every school in Bartow County right now, Cartersville and Bartow County [school systems], is over 50 percent free and reduced [lunch] -- every area in our county right now, with the exception of the Euharlee area, [but] they're almost there," Morris said. "You'd be surprised -- I was surprised when I started doing this. I went out to see the sites, and you don't realize that kids in Bartow County are hungry, but they are. And with the recession, we've really seen that grow more."
Superintendent Howard Hinesley at the June 10 Cartersville School Board work session shared details of the feeding program with board members in attendance, lauding the efforts of those involved in serving the county's youth.
"If you're in town one day and you want to see something that's well run and well organized, just stop by the primary school and go into the cafeteria. It's a major operation," he said. "The cafeteria, everything's out of there except these tables, and it's like an assembly line.
"It's quite an accomplishment for Tracey Morris and her staff, and it's a real effort to help kids who are hungry in the summer to have meals."