Food for Thought: Maintaining outreach during time of social distancing

Published 5:26 pm Thursday, May 7, 2020

Despite schools being closed and social distancing measures in place due to COVID-19, an Outer Banks community outreach program for students has continued to provide services. With school closed through the end of the term and local unemployment numbers rising, Food for Thought board members voted to modify their packing and delivery methods to continue serving at-risk students.

“The board thought long and hard about how we could continue serving the community without putting our own volunteers at risk,” says Bobbie Murray, president of Outer Banks Food for Thought.

She adds, “But our kids are the ones who suffer most when schools are closed. With so many parents out of work now, we are providing for about 550 instead of our usual 350 students.”

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Margaret Lawler photo, courtesy Food for Thought

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Typically, each Thursday would see about 30 volunteers standing shoulder-to-shoulder in assembly line fashion to pack bags of non-perishable groceries to be distributed in each school.

Linda White, Food for Thought board member, describes the usual packing process, “We used to blow it out in 45 minutes. Now, it takes three days. We spend about five hours because we pack in small teams.”

White says the work would not be possible without dedicated volunteers. “Not only are our volunteers putting themselves on the front line and doing more with fewer people, but we’ve added more kids to feed.”

With an extra 200 bags to pack each week, those in charge of inventory are challenged to stock shelves with staples such as milk, juice or cereal. Substitutions may get made with brands or container sizes, but so far, Food for Thought is maintaining the program’s calorie guidelines with consistent bag contents.

When the small packing teams are non-family members, everyone is gloved, masked and six or more feet apart.

“But it’s worth it,” says Murray. “We have had to change our packing methods to abide by the social distancing and safe health practices. For that reason, we are not looking for new recruits. If anyone reading this wants to help, monetary donations would be best.”

The process for school children to receive Food for Thought donations has been simplified to match the imminent needs of area families. On Thursdays, any student in need may also request a Food for Thought weekend bag at the Dare County school system’s meal distribution sites. The county continues to distribute its full meal service on from 11:30 a.m. -1 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Cape Hatteras Elementary School, Manteo Elementary School and First Flight Elementary School.

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Bobbie Murray, president of the Outer Banks Food for Thought.
Jeanne Brook photo, courtesy Food for Thought

“They do not have to be signed up for Food for Thought. On Thursdays, we give bags to anyone who needs help; we don’t want anyone to go hungry while they are trying to learn,” says Murray.

Food for Thought is an all-volunteer, non-profit organization that provides healthy non-perishable breakfasts and lunches in Dare County during school year weekends. Now in its 13th year, Outer Banks Food for Thought uses donated funds to support its mission with minimal administrative costs. It estimates that sending students home with non-perishables for the weekend costs $275 per student per year. For more information or to donate, visit foodforthoughtobx.com or mail to Food for Thought, Inc., PO Box 1167, Kitty Hawk, NC 27949.

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