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Bagged, Boxed, Delivered

“Signed, Sealed, Delivered” played in the background Thursday morning in the cafeteria at Aiken High as Aiken County Public Schools' employees packed lunches for students across Area 1.

The 1970 Stevie Wonder soul classic provided the perfect rhythm for the human conveyor belt as school aides and other employees, wearing masks and gloves for safety, filled bags with an apple or banana and passed it down the line to the next person to put in a box of cereal or a cup of applesauce.

The song also offered just the right theme for the weekly food distribution. Since South Carolina schools closed in mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic, the district has bagged, boxed and delivered hundreds of thousands of grab-and-go breakfast and lunch meals to students across Aiken County.

Bus drivers and aides deliver the meals along their routes on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday mornings. The Tuesday and Thursday deliveries include enough good for two days.

Aiken High is the largest food distribution site in the county, and as might be expected at a school whose mascot is the Hornet, the cafeteria was buzzing with activity as workers got the meals ready for the school buses, which started lining up about 10:30 a.m.

Thursday's menu included a breakfast pizza; chicken and waffles and a Jamaican turnover for lunch; carrots, celery, bean salad and green beans; milk and juices; and chips.

Cafeteria workers come in at about 6 a.m. to have the food ready for the aides, who arrive about 8 a.m. and find a place at one of the rows of lunch tables lined end-to-end.

Terri Spires, the school food service manager at Aiken High, and her staff of 10 prepare an average of 2,160 meals daily. On a regular school day, the food staff makes close to 500 meals.

“It's a regular lunch and a regular breakfast. You get your meat, your bread, your vegetables and your fruit,” she said. “We want to make sure they have something to eat. For some kids, unfortunately, this might be the only meal they do get.”

Spires said she appreciates all the help that makes the meal distribution possible.

“I want to thank everybody, and I want all our kids to know that we miss them,” she said.

Sitting in the morning sun outside the cafeteria, Patrice Rhinehart-Jackson waited to board one of the school buses. Rhinehart-Jackson, who represents District 7 on the Aiken County School Board, volunteers her time every other day to help deliver meals to students.

“People just need to know that we care – seriously – and I genuinely care about everybody in our school system and their families,” she said. “I like to be able to go out and see the kids, just talk to them, make sure everything's all right. They love to see the buses coming because it's a familiar face and something that ties them to school.

“We have to understand that they've gone through a traumatic experience – you go to school on a Friday and you don't go on Monday and you don't know when you're going back. That's traumatic. School is a safe place for a lot of kids, so we just need to keep that connection to let the families know that we care.”

Riding on the bus allows Rhinehart-Jackson to be that connection.

“When a bus pulls up, that might be that one day when a student says I need help or my family is not doing too well. Is there something you can do to help me? If we can be that lifeline on a particular day, then we need to be that lifeline,” she said.

Rhinehart-Jackson said she also wants the district's employees know that she and the School Board care about them.

“We're all in this together. If they can come out here and do it, then I can come out here and do it,” she said.

Click here to read the full Aiken Standard article. 

Larry Wood/Aiken Standard
Photo Credit: Cindy Kubovic