Smyrna (WGCL) — When coronavirus shut down Cobb County schools, the school district tapped local charity MUST Ministries to coordinate the effort to feed students who normally rely on free meals at school.
“MUST Ministries is a great ministry,” said Derek Porter, the lead pastor of Smyrna First United Methodist Church. “It is a great organization, and they are working tirelessly to serve these kids, but they’re being handed a responsibility that quite honestly isn’t their responsibility.”
Other metro Atlanta school districts began handing out sack lunches Monday at select locations. Gwinnett County School District is even using its bus fleet and bus drivers to deliver meals to children in their neighborhoods.
CBS46 News asked a spokesperson for the Cobb County School District why the district is relying on volunteers rather than its own resources to feed its students.
A school district spokeswoman sent the following statement Monday night:
“Partnering with the experts who support needy families every day of the year allows us to meet the needs of our students in a sustainable way. With federal and state guidance changing by the moment, our partnership approach is the best way to make sure as many students are supported for as long as possible. MUST Ministries leadership and commitment to the students of Cobb county is unparalleled and we are proud to have partnered with them during this unpredictable health crisis.”
CBS46 News later asked if the district is using any of its own food in the effort. The spokesperson sent the following statement Tuesday morning:
“To help MUST as they feed our Cobb families in need, over the weekend we delivered truckloads of food, including milk, juice, fresh fruit, and vegetables, which would otherwise be served to students in schools at lunch. We are continuing to work together with MUST as 29 food pantries open inside Cobb schools across the District this week. Our team will help stock the school-based pantries this week and continue to support MUST and the school pantries.”
Porter, the Smyrna pastor, said he realizes it’s probably too late for the Cobb County School District to take the lead in the meal distribution effort.
“But make the plans next time to open up the cafeterias, run the buses,” he said. “You’ve got cafeteria workers. You’ve got bus drivers. Let them work.”
MUST Ministries President and CEO Ike Reighard released the following statement Tuesday regarding the controversy:
“First, we’d like to commend Cobb County Schools for being proactive and already establishing a broad system for feeding the most at-risk students and their families through their 29 MUST Neighborhood Pantry locations in schools. Groceries and toiletries are provided 12 months a year there. Those families have already received their March allotment of food and this week will receive an additional two weeks of food through MUST Food Rapid Response.
Because of the vast number of children in Cobb County Schools, the decision to distribute food boxes curbside at these Neighborhood Pantry locations allows us to help support the CDC’s request to “flatten the curve” and contain this virus.
MUST has received an outpouring of generosity from the community and while we need more food and donations to meet an unknown future, we are focused on raising food to feed the entire family. Our team has been out shopping, taping together new boxes and filling them with provisions that families will appreciate.
Cobb County Schools sent us five truckloads of milk, juice and produce to include in the food boxes and we have supplemented that with oatmeal, canned vegetables, meat, fruit and other items. We have worked around the clock for days trying to meet the need and will do so as long as the community helps us provide the food.”
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