By Greg Barnes

Parents and their children waited in a long line of vehicles Tuesday morning as cafeteria workers from Cumberland County’s Cape Fear High School doled out hot lunches and the next day’s breakfast.

Like other systems throughout the state, Cumberland County Schools decided students still need to be fed while the schools remain closed and the threat of the spreading coronavirus remains.

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This was the first day of the free, curbside lunch program since Gov. Roy Cooper announced Saturday that all public schools in the state would be closed for at least two weeks in an effort to contain COVID-19.

In Cumberland County, drive-up lunch programs are being offered at 16 schools from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mecklenburg County is serving in about 70 locations and Wake County in 16 places.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg and school systems in Wake, Durham and Orange counties are among those conducting similar curbside pickup programs.

Children up to age 18 are eligible for the meals in each county. In Cumberland County, that includes children not currently enrolled in the system or those too young to attend.

Workers had prepared 100 meals Tuesday  — hamburgers, salad, fruit and milk — for children in Cumberland County before they quickly realized they were going to need more. A lot more.

The Cumberland County (NC) school system needs additional take-out trays for school meals. Individuals or organizations that would like to donate take-out trays may contact CCS’ Child Nutrition Services at 910-584-2423 (phone) or (email).

“We’ve never done this before,” said Donna Carter, Cape Fear High’s cafeteria manager, who quickly found herself ordering more burgers. “I think it’s a great idea. We want our children to be fed. I called my ladies and they were 100 percent helping out today.”

By the end of the day, they had served 800 meals.

Brittany Chavis thought it was a great idea, too. Chavis was picking up lunches and breakfast for her neighbor’s five children. She said the neighbor doesn’t have transportation.

“They don’t have everything in the world, and a lot of times they depend on eating at school,” Chavis said.

graphic including an image of coronavirus

In Cumberland County, 61 percent of the district’s 52,000-plus public school students qualify for the free or reduced-price lunch program.

Another parent in line, Gabrielle Jacobs, said she was picking up lunch for her two children, who were in the car with her.

Theresa Cottrell, foreground, and Ann Hunt prepare lunches that were distributed for free Tuesday , March 17, at Cumberland County's Cape Fear High School. This effort is a part of providing free lunch to children during COVID-19.
Theresa Cottrell, foreground, and Ann Hunt prepare lunches that were distributed for free Tuesday , March 17, at Cumberland County’s Cape Fear High School. Photo credit: Greg Barnes

“They wanted school lunches,” Jacobs said. “ I think it’s a good idea, helping out kids who depend on these meals.”

Jacobs said she had just come from the adjacent Mac Williams Middle School, where her children picked up packets of school assignments. While the children are out of school, they will continue to get virtual education over the internet.

Melba Newsome provided reporting for this story.

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Greg Barnes retired in 2018 from The Fayetteville Observer, where he worked as senior reporter, editor, columnist and reporter for more than 30 years. Contact him at: gregbarnes401 at