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Wood County Schools to again revise meal program

Jennifer Null, assistant principal at Neale Elementary School, helps distribute meals Wednesday at the school. Wood County Schools may revise its take home meals program for students next week as officials say they cannot keep up with demand and worry whether the students most in need are receiving the meals. (Photo by Michael Erb)

PARKERSBURG — Wood County Schools wrapped up a week of meal distributions at four schools Wednesday, but officials say the student feeding program likely will dramatically change when it restarts Monday.

Schools throughout West Virginia and Ohio shut down last week due to concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Since then, school systems have struggled to find a safe and effective way to feed and instruct students during the shutdown.

This week West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice issued a stay-at-home order, asking people to only leave the house for food, medicine and medical services. All non-essential businesses were told to close and people were asked to not gather in groups.

Superintendent Will Hosaflook addressed the Wood County Board of Education Tuesday evening during an online board meeting. Hosaflook said meal distribution has been a massive undertaking by the county, and employees have volunteered their time to make sure students are fed.

“There are so many logistical items that have to be taken into account,” Hosaflook said. “We are going to do the best job we can.”

Wood County Schools employees and volunteers distributed meals Wednesday at Neale Elementary School in Vienna. Neale was one of four schools to distribute meals Wednesday, and officials say when the feeding program returns next week it likely will be dramatically different for the entire county, focusing on certain areas to better reach high-need students. (Photo by Michael Erb)

Hosaflook said officials also ran into issues with the district’s meals program. On Monday, the district opened 11 feeding sites throughout the county. Four of those distributed meals for Monday and Tuesday, while the other seven sent home a week’s worth of breakfast and lunch meals for students.

About 40,000 meals were prepared and distributed Monday, Hosaflook said, and many sites ran out of food before everyone was served.

“That’s mind boggling when you start talking about the amount of food being distributed,” said board President Rick Olcott.

Hosaflook said some issues aren simply beyond the school system’s ability to address. For example, as more businesses close and shipping lines get disrupted, receiving orders has become difficult.

“Can we even get the proper food in because the distribution lines are starting to become minimal,” he said, adding when an order is placed “we may only get half of what we ordered.”

Hosaflook said when the feeding program resumes Monday, it likely will be a much smaller scale.

“We are trying to target the needs-based children,” Hosaflook. “Right now we are making more meals every day that we do with our normal daily programs. You will probably see a change next week.”

Hosaflook said one of the issues was families picking up food for multiple students. Officials said some people who picked up food requested bags for 7-8 students, with no assurance of where those meals were going.

“We’ve been very generous at this point, but we’re going to have to start scaling back,” he said. “In a lot of cases we are running out of food. We may require the students will have to be present. We can’t give you seven bags unless there are seven children in the car.”

Board member Debbie Hendershot expressed concerns over bringing children to the schools, especially during the governor’s order for people to stay at home and maintain distance from others. Hendershot asked if families could instead present a report card showing the student is currently enrolled, which Hosaflook said was a possibility.

“We need some sort of verification,” he said.

Hosaflook said plans are being revised daily and he will continue to notify families of changes through the district’s all-call system and online.

Contact Michael Erb at merb@newsandsentinel.com.

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