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April Plummer, school nutrition program director, hands a bag of food to a family as part of a drive-thru program to feed children while schools are closed. Stephen Kilpatrick, who works in tech services, was helping. 

Even though Fauquier County schools are closed due to the coronavirus, Dena Rhodes was directing traffic at Fauquier High School in Warrenton Monday morning. Dressed in full rain gear, the school division’s budget and management analyst was volunteering to make sure that families could find their way to the nutrition workers handing out sacks of food. 

April Plummer, school nutrition program director, and a crew of five cafeteria managers had been working since 7 a.m. to pack the bags of food. Another group was at Grace Miller Elementary doing the same. 

Plummer was upbeat. “In the nutrition department, we have to be flexible, to react to different situations. We’ve been through earthquakes, floods. We react to changing needs.”

She laughed as she remembered telling David Graham, executive director of administration and planning, “Don’t worry, we got this.”

The Fauquier County school employees were prepared to distribute up to 400 sacks of food at FHS and the same number at Grace Miller Elementary School in Bealeton. Both locations gave out bags that contained two breakfasts and two lunches to families in need between 10:30 a.m. and noon. The program was set to continue on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays while schools are closed.

The project is called Grab and Go; parents can drive up and pick up the food with minimal social interaction. All of the food is prepared, shelf-stable food – containers of applesauce, yogurt, dry cereal and individually wrapped sandwiches. “And milk, we have plenty of milk,” said Graham.

“We wanted to make sure that all the food we distributed was safe. We didn’t want to solve one problem and create another,” he said.

Graham said this was the first time for the food distribution and he suspected the staff would learn from it. “We’ll see how many people come, and we’ll adjust for the next time,” he said.

Parents are asked to provide the name of their child’s school and their lunch number if possible. “We are not going to turn anyone away,” he said. If a grandma or a neighbor is picking up food for someone else, it would be helpful to have the lunch number, he said. “But we know that not everyone who needs to is going to be able to go to the locations during that hour and a half. It’s the first time. We may try to add locations as we go.”

School Board member Stephanie Litter-Reber (Lee District) said Thursday that she was concerned about some families in her district. She asked Graham, “I know of one mom, she works retail. There is no way she can be there. Can I pick up food for her?”

Graham assured her that she could.

He said that some teachers wanted to volunteer to deliver food, “but we’re not there yet. We need to make sure this is up and running first.”

Les Balgavy, director of testing, was one of three or four people hovering near the edge of a small canopy that sheltered the volunteers from the rain. All were trying to figure out how to stay six feet away from one another and still stay dry. Belgavy said he’s been spending his time away from school working outside. He said, “I have the greenest lawn in the neighborhood, but I was getting antsy.” He said he was glad to get out of the house and help out.

Prashant Shrestha, the school’s assistant superintendent for business and planning was sheltered under an oversized umbrella Monday as he helped to steer families to the correct entrance. He said he wanted to make sure that parents knew that they could have a friend or a neighbor pick up food if they were working during pickup hours. “The last thing we want is to have bags of food left over,” he said.

Reach Robin Earl at rearl@fauquier.com 

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