‘Meeting them at their door’: Bristol Va. schools mobile meal program to last through COVID-19 closure

Coronavirus

BRISTOL, Va. (WJHL) – Brisk temperatures and a cold rain didn’t keep a smiling Kelissa Collins from heading out of her East Ridge apartment Tuesday for a bag containing a nutritious breakfast compliments of the Bristol, Va. school system.

SEE LIST OF OTHER SCHOOL SYSTEMS’ FEEDING PROGRAMS

With her mom, Jelissa, in tow, the first-grader met a nice man who happened to be the system’s superintendent, Keith Perrigan. Sporting blue latex gloves, Perrigan walked around the complex rousting as many kids as possible for a 10 a.m. breakfast delivery that will continue until the schools reopen and the COVID-19 threat is sufficiently diminished.

Bristol, Va. school officials make their first stop distributing breakfasts Tuesday morning.

“It helps out a lot, it really does,” Jelissa Collins said. “I was worried when they did close the schools down because that little bit helps because they’re not eating at home all day, so it helps make food last just a little bit longer.”

Like many school systems around the region, Bristol’s is doing all it can to help families endure the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak. Thanks to USDA’s current flexibility regarding food programs, that help includes two meals a day, which are available for any children ages 1 to 18 regardless of whether their families qualify for free or reduced lunch.

“Bristol has been doing things like this for years,” Perrigan said. “In addition to just providing breakfast and lunch we’re also sending some groceries home to some families that we know that need it and we’ll continue to try to serve our families the best we can throughout this crisis.”

Bristol Va. School Superintendent Keith Perrigan

That was evident at Van Pelt Elementary earlier Tuesday, where food service staff had prepared the bagged breakfasts and would turn around and fix lunches as well. The plan was to serve at four elementaries and six targeted sites such as East Ridge, but before Tuesday’s 2 p.m. lunch service, Perrigan said the system had decided to add a seventh site.

On the program’s first day, the schools served 100 breakfasts and 286 lunches, Perrigan said late Tuesday afternoon.

“We are also doing some personal home deliveries for families that can’t make it to the sites that we’re stationing at,” he said.

Bristol school board member Tyrone Foster joined the effort Tuesday and said he appreciated how proactive the system has been under Perrigan’s watch. He said it’s particularly important in Bristol’s pockets of poverty, where parents sometimes struggle with the necessities.

Staff prepare to load breakfasts at Van Pelt Elementary in Bristol Va.

“This is one of the things that we do on a daily basis anyway, but it’s very important that we reach out to take care of our families during school closure as well,” said Foster, who is also a city police officer. “So with them not being able to get to their schools or to the central office you know we’ve taken it upon ourselves to come out and actually meet them at their doors.”

The school system strives to take care of basic needs before taking care of educational needs, Perrigan said. To that end, they work with Communities in Schools and Feeding America to provide supplemental non-perishable groceries.

“We’re delivering about 120 of those,” he said. “For other families who need it if we don’t deliver it to you you can come by our school office during normal hours to pick those up.”

On-site lunches (take and go) are being served at Van Pelt, Washington and Lee, Highland View and Stonewall Jackson elementaries. Deliveries are going to East Ridge, Harbor Landing, the Boys and Girls Club, Girls Inc., Johnson Court and Springdale.

Anyone who can’t make it to any of those areas can email him at kperrigan@bvps.org. “We’ll deliver the meals directly to your child,” he said. “We want to be sure that all students are able to eat over the course of this closure.” The child must be present for the food to be distributed.

As the breakfast bus stopped at Johnson Court, City Commissioner Anthony Farnum summed up his thoughts about the effort, which he had joined for the day.

“I think this is just an example of Bristol Virginia taking care of Bristol Virginia,” Farnum said. “I think there’s a lot of uncertainty. If you’re watching things on the news now, some troubling times, but … here in Bristol Virginia we take care of each other, we look after each other and we’re gonna get through all of this together.”

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