With schools and businesses closed, many find themselves wondering where their next meal will come from. In true Madison fashion, local organizations are stepping up to help neighbors.
Last week, Madison County Public Schools began offering meals to children ages 2-18. Similar to what is done during the summer months as part of the USDA Summer Meals Program, the schools are using the program to provide breakfast and lunch to local children. Each child is given five breakfasts and five lunches each week.
“We’re distributing meals so that children in need receive the food they need,” Madison County Public Schools Supervisor of School Nutrition Patty Seale said. “Last week, we distributed to 339 students, this week it is at 400.”
Seale said last week’s meals were all non-perishable items. This week, she said ham and turkey sandwiches were added along with peanut butter and jelly.
The main difference between summer meals and these meals is how they’re given to the students. Summer meals are hosted at one of the schools. With the coronavirus, or COVID-19, a drive through approach has been implemented.
Families sign up for the program by contacting Laura Burbridge at 948-3780, ext. 5106. They then drive to Madison County High School Tuesday evenings where staff members have arranged a drive through system. Staff meets families at their car at the loading dock just past the high school’s cafeteria and load food into cars. Those who can’t attend the drive through can arrange an alternate plan with Burbridge.
Seale said the program will continue as long as her staff has access to the schools to prepare meals. The program, she said, is a team effort.
“We have had so many people offer to help, but our staff has been so willing to come and help that we haven’t had to use volunteers,” she said. “[Superintendent] Anna Graham, [assistant superintendent] Cathy Jones and other school members have helped as well.”
Graham said the school division plans to continue the program as long as it’s able to.
“A significant portion of our school community relies on these meals for their children,” she said. “We believe every child deserves access to proper nutrition and we will continue to do everything we can to ensure our students are fed. Patty Seale and her food services team are truly amazing and deserve recognition and praise for their commitment to this goal.”
While the schools are handling meals for children, the Madison Emergency Services Association (MESA) Food Pantry is providing meals for in-need adults. Food pantry coordinator Robin Corum said the pantry is experiencing an uptick in the number of locals it serves. In addition to food, he said the pantry provides toiletry items like diapers and wipes, paper towels and more. He said the pantry is working with the Department of Social Services and nonprofits to sustain its offerings. Like others, he said the organization has had a tough time getting meat and toilet paper is of course elusive.
Corum said any donations would be gratefully accepted. The one thing the pantry isn’t in need of is fresh produce. Corum said Trader Joe’s donates lots of fresh produce to the pantry. Anything else would be very helpful though, he said. Items for children are also needed including macaroni and cheese cups, chips and juices. Anyone wanting to donate to the pantry can contact Corum to arrange a drop-off by calling (540) 308-0517. Those in-need of pantry services should contact Phyllis Browning with MESA Client Services at 948-4427. The food pantry is open Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Wednesday, noon until finished; and Friday, 10 a.m. to noon.
Senior needs are also on the mind of local organizations, especially since the CDC has recommended that all those over 65 self-isolate in their homes. Madison County Department of Social Services Director Valerie Ward said Rappahannock Rapidan Community Services is continuing to administer its home delivered meals program and will be distributing the meals that participants at the senior center would receive if it were still open. She also said meals are being delivered through the Reach program which is intended to serve elderly or disabled individuals who struggle to access other food programs. Monthly bags of shelf stable food are delivered to folks’ homes, she said.
“Volunteer drivers are needed immediately for this program,” Ward said. “At this time, we have 50 bags that need to be delivered.”
Interested drivers can contact Ward at 948-5521.
Already volunteering to help seniors is the Madison County Minutemen Quick Reaction Force, an unorganized militia spearheaded by county resident Matthew Hooser in response to gun laws that were being evaluated by the General Assembly during the 2020 session. When introduced to supervisors last month, Hooser said the force would be a group of law-abiding citizens volunteering to protect and support the county in times of crisis including natural disasters, war and the infringement upon the rights of citizens. It’s that first part of the group’s mission that had it switching up plans this past weekend. Originally, the Minutemen were supposed to have a call to muster Sunday. However, Hooser said that was postponed and an emergency planning meeting was held instead.
“As is the nature of a Quick Reaction Force, we have in fact switched gears to address the COVID-19 pandemic our country and county is facing,” he said. “We did postpone our formal muster to be held at a later date, but instead held an emergency planning meeting on Sunday to discuss the relief efforts we are spearheading in the county.”
One of those relief efforts is assisting Madison Senior Center Administrator and Countryside Nursing Home Director Shirley Workman in delivering aid to those she tends to. Hooser said the Minutemen had already started developing a resupply network and delivery teams when they were contacted by Workman about delivering food and supplies.
“We gladly jumped on board and are working with her to deliver meals, medicine and supplies to her folks,” Hooser said.
Hooser said Workman has asked for some specific items seniors need while sheltering in place including manual can openers with large turning nobs or electric ones and non-contact digital thermometers so seniors can check their temperatures if they feel like they’re getting sick.
“Thus far, we have been able to round up some of the thermometers and have folks working on ordering some electric can openers,” Hooser said.
He said the Minutemen have established a donation resupply center and are working with locals throughout the county to bring in supplies to assist resupply efforts. Anyone with resources to spare can contact the Minutemen to donate. Hooser said items can be picked up from porches and driveways. Items will then be delivered to the resupply center where they will be sanitized and packaged into individual meal bags to be delivered to high-risk individuals in the county. The group is also working to obtain hand sanitizer for the Madison County Volunteer Fire Company and EMS.
“We have provided them with a small amount of hand sanitizer to sustain their efforts until we can deliver them a larger quantity of antiseptic that is being produced,” Hooser said.
“We will be working endlessly to take care of and get folks what they need during this pandemic,” he added. “This county has an interminable spirit and its citizens are resilient and hardy. We will weather this storm and we will emerge from the other side stronger than ever.”
Those in need or who would like to donate supplies can contact Hooser at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ward said its likely needs will increase as the pandemic continues.
“We are concerned about the possible impact on parents’ employment related to the closing of the Madison Learning Center [last] Friday,” she said. “Without that childcare, many families will not be able to work. How that adds to the need from families who working in businesses that have now closed is unclear.”
Anyone with questions about benefits can contact the Madison County Department of Social Services at 948-5521. The office is closed to the public, but Ward said staff members are still working—responding to phone calls and processing applications online.