Groups, businesses offer food assistance during school closures

By EMILY SPARACINO / Staff Writer

The immediate closure of public schools in Shelby County in light of the ongoing threat of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has raised questions about children having access to an adequate supply of food during the next several weeks.

School systems have shared meal program plans for students in need, and local businesses and organizations started sharing their plans to collect and distribute food donations in an effort to meet families’ needs.

In a March 18 press release, the Alabama State Department of Education confirmed free breakfasts and lunches will be distributed to any child age 18 and younger at sites across the state.

No paperwork is required; however, children must be present with a parent or guardian to receive the meals, according to the release. The meals must be picked up “to go” and will not be consumed at the distribution location.

“The State Department of Education already has an effective, successful free meals system in place, which usually goes into effect at the start of the summer months,” State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey said. “We’ve already mobilized that program so that children in need can receive breakfast and dinner in the weeks between now and when schools are reopened.”

Shelby County Schools will provide meals to students at each of the district’s high schools March 30-April 3 from 11 a.m. to noon.

Meals will not be provided during SCS’s spring break, which is March 23-27.

Tables will be set up near the car rider line for parents to drive through and pick up a breakfast and lunch bag for their student to be eaten offsite.

For more information or updates, follow SCS on social media or visit Shelbyed.k12.al.us.

Alabaster City Schools will operate its school closure feeding program March 30-April 3.

The program will be closed during the week of ACS’s spring break, which is March 23-27.

A drive-through pickup station will be set up at Thompson Intermediate School from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily.

Food served is healthy and follows USDA nutrition guidelines. No application or proof of income is needed.

For more information or updates, follow ACS on social media or visit Acsboe.org.

For Hoover City Schools families, student meals will be available at Green Valley Elementary School, located at 3200 Old Columbiana Road, on Monday-Friday from 11 a.m.-1 p.m.

These will be drive-up, grab-and-go bagged meals.

Pelham City Schools will distribute meals to children 18 years old and younger March 30-April 3.

Meals will not be distributed March 23-27, which is PCS’s spring break.

Ready-to-eat lunches and breakfast meals for the next morning will be distributed in a drive-through line at Pelham Park Middle School from 10 a.m.-noon on these dates.

The drive-through distribution will take place in the bus loop at the back of the school near the cafeteria entrance.

Pelham Park Middle School is located at 2016 Pelham Parkway.

Volunteers with Vineyard Family Services’ BackPack Buddies program unload food boxes to distribute to families in need while schools are closed. (Reporter Photo/Keith McCoy)

Vineyard Family Services delivered buddy bags for BackPack Buddies recipients to all local schools on March 16, and the organization’s food collection efforts continue.

VFS Program Director Stephanie Grissom said the organization is also focused on providing bulk boxes of food, such as cereal, pasta, sauce, peanut butter, bread and fresh fruit, to families in need during school and work closures.

“We have families with lots of children, and everybody is not being able to work,” Grissom said. “We really are going to have to service them this week and try to load them up.”

Grissom said the family boxes can be picked up at the same time as the buddy bags at designated school feeding sites.

Located in the Pelham Mall at 2834-H Pelham Parkway, VFS will be open throughout the week to accept financial or food donations (cases, family boxes, etc.).

Grissom said VFS’s goal is to collect as many donations as possible this week before spring break begins.

Anyone with questions about dropping off donations can contact Grissom at (205) 317-9897.

Chubbfathers owner Will Cholewinski helps to pack free food bags at his restaurant to distribute to residents in need. (Reporter Photo/Keith McCoy)

Chubbfathers in Alabaster is also accepting food donations to distribute to students and families in need.

“We’re still taking donations to build food bags,” Chubbfathers owner Will Cholewinski said. “If you know someone who needs help with food for their kids, send them here and we will do what we can. Thank you to everybody for your support and for your generosity. We’re going to get through this together.”

Cholewinski said both of his Chubbfathers restaurants, one in Alabaster and the other in Clanton, are serving as drop-off locations for food donations.

Bags will be filled with breakfast, lunch, snack and potential dinner items, as supplies allow.

“We’re going to do our best to divide it up as best as possible,” he said. “We’re just trying to do whatever we can do.”

Seventh Heaven Full Service Salon is partnering with Elvin Hill Elementary School and Cultivate Church to collect non-perishable foods for Elvin Hill Elementary School students who might not have access to food during the school closure.

“We’re just trying to make sure kids who are part of BackPack Buddies are able to have these snacks,” Seventh Heaven owner Patti Smith said. “We’re still in need of donations.”

Needed items include grits, oatmeal, individual cereals, fruit cups, pudding cups, Jell-O cups, juice pouches, juice boxes, individual packs of crackers, granola bars and gummy fruit snacks.

Toiletry items are also being accepted.

Donations can be dropped off at Seventh Heaven anytime. Any donations brought outside of normal business hours Tuesday-Saturday can be left on the salon’s back porch.

“We’re just trying to be the hands and feet of Jesus. That’s what we’re called to do,” Smith said. “We’re a Christian-based salon, and we feel like God has given us that business to be the hands and feet.”

Families can stop by the Shelby Baptist Association to pick up small amounts of groceries on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 8:30 a.m. to noon. Those who have a need for more groceries can call (205) 669-7858 to make an appointment.

Alabama Childhood Food Solutions offers grocery assistance and can be reached at Alabamachildhoodfood.com.

Manna Ministries is open for food pickups on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon. Call (205) 910-4098 ahead of time or email pphmanna@gmail.com.

Below is a running list of other organizations, businesses and churches pitching in to help local families:

  • Liberty Baptist Church in Alabaster will pass out meals on Wednesdays from 5-6:30 p.m. in the fellowship hall.
  • Bertolone’s Italian in Calera will offer free kids meals Monday-Friday 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. with the purchase of an adult meal, dine-in or take-out.
  • Consigned Design in Alabaster will provide items to those who call the shop at (205) 664-7540 or message the Facebook page expressing a specific need.
  • Three Hearts One Mission has fully stocked its Free Little Pantries with non-perishable foods. The pantries are located at the Columbiana Senior Center, the Columbiana Recreation Building and the Shelby County Courthouse overflow parking lot.
  • South Shelby Baptist Church will distribute food via a drive-through service for kids during the school closure on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • ATI Physical Therapy in Alabaster will have nonperishable, quick/easy meals and bottled drinks for its patients that come in to take home.

If you know of others that should be added to this list, send a message to the Shelby County Reporter on Facebook.