To: Local Media Sources
From: Randall Farley, Superintendent, Marion County Schools
Marion County Schools has been working hard to address many issues as a result of the emergency situation created by the COVID-19 pandemic. We appreciate all of the efforts our employees are making in light of the situation. We, along with all school systems in the country have struggled with change that comes at a moment’s notice to continue services to our students in new and different ways. One of the most important services recognized by Governor Justice, the West Virginia Department of Education and Marion County Schools was to provide food to our students.
I am participating in the loading and delivery of meals going out to our students. The volunteers from our community and employees showing up to make this happen each week are to be commended for their service. We have not had complaints from those receiving the food. There have been more each week asking to be added to the list. The students are happy to see the familiar faces of the employees when they meet them to receive the meals. If a student needs meals that has not signed up yet, please call (304) 367-2100 or go to www.marionboe.com scroll to the bottom of the front page and put your request in on the “Contact Form”.
March 13, 2020, governor Justice declared a state of emergency and closed all West Virginia public schools to reduce the spread of COVID-19. County school systems were instructed to continue providing school meals (breakfast and lunch) to students through non-congregate feeding practices.
We immediately began the process of our employees preparing meals that could be delivered by our buses or picked up at drive-through locations. As we were working to continue preparing the volume of meals needed we planned more food orders. Supplies were not readily available for these options. This process was working very smoothly until Governor Justice put the Stay-at-Home Order in place.
When that happened it became clear after a short time that some alternative choices would need to be available in order to sustain a longer term solution for feeding students. Originally, the Stay-at-Home/Closure Orders for the state and public schools had an approximate two-week window. Public health experts and state officials ascertained that a longer order would be necessary due to the crisis. We implemented plans for working remotely as much as possible. Some services cannot be performed remotely. The preparation and delivery of food is one of them.
The State Department of Tourism was tasked by the Governor with issuing a call to action to take information from State Parks and restaurants that were interested in being a part of the mass feeding efforts. Tourism received inquiries from approximately 250 restaurants statewide. It was ascertained that the restaurants who had expressed interest in helping schools, could not meet the meal pattern components within the federal meal rates.
Marion County Schools reached out to the West Virginia Department of Education on March 25 for information regarding known vendors that would be options for counties. Due to labor and product limitations within our county and one of the vendor’s already being at capacity at that time, the most viable option was to use Kilmer’s Farm in order for our county to continue the task of feeding students during the pandemic. We were blessed to find Kilmer’s Farm as an option. They are a locally owned WV company and we have been trying to support the WV economy.
There are waivers around meal pattern requirements because of the shortages nationwide in obtaining shelf stable food. The pandemic has affected supply and demand in many areas across the globe, our state and here locally in Marion County. The local vendors of food supplies are limiting what you can purchase. Local food pantries, food banks, soup kitchens and restaurants have their issues with this same effect of supply and demand. The change in employment has caused an increase in the number of families utilizing various options providing food. We have talked with our vendor Kilmer’s Farm concerning variety and product supply and they have worked with us to change up the meals and add additional products based upon available supplies. The county is providing milk in addition to the meals received and the milk vendor is our local United Dairy. They are gracious enough to help us with a refrigerated truck. Also, American Fence helps us with a forklift to get the pallets off of the delivery truck and into a refrigerated truck for safe keeping overnight.
While federal reimbursement is based upon rates times meals served, there are operational costs that districts or a vendor would have that are not always captured to include labor and equipment. The most cost effective way to serve our students quality meals is with our child nutrition staff preparing and serving the meals; however, this crisis did not allow this practice to continue to occur in our county. All of the factors I have talked about in this situation makes it even more important for Marion County Schools to continue our food service to students, which we are more than happy to do.
Marion County Schools will post relevant news, updates, and guidance for parents, students, teachers, and staff on this page to keep you informed.