Instead of looking for Santa’s sleigh, children can be watching for a big yellow school bus along their bus route tomorrow, on Thursday, December 10th sometime after 3:00 p.m. The Wayne County School bus drivers will be delivering delicious hot turkey dinners near the bus stops, so all aged children need to be watching for them. If they are unable to be home after school hours, a pick-up distribution site will be conveniently located at the Wayne County Middle School from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m.
The Wayne County Schools Food Service Department continues to do an extraordinary job feeding the children of the community whether it is through pick-up services at school with multiple meals or special delivery efforts in neighborhoods.
Most recently, the school transportation department joined them in a heartwarming effort to take hot Thanksgiving meals to children from one end of the county to the other, using the regular bus routes as their guide. Cooks, drivers, monitors, instructional assistants, administrative staffers, JROTC cadets and teachers joined together to make it happen because it breaks their hearts to see the children they normally serve at school, go hungry - especially during the holidays.
“It was so rewarding,” said Transportation Administrator Johnny Young. “I’m so glad I got to drive one of the buses. It was worth every effort seeing the eyes of those children excited to receive a hot meal from school. I love to show God’s love to people.”
“It took a village to do it,” he explained. “Those on the receiving end were so thankful.”
There were 44 drivers, as well as 49 support people on the buses doing the paper work required by the summer food service program and handing out food. They traveled all the way to the McCreary County line to the Pulaski County line to Lake Cumberland and all the way to the Freedom community.
Food Service Director Kathryn Tucker said they served 2,300 Thanksgiving meals on Thursday, November 19th. She said the staff realized how much the children look forward to the traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas meals normally served at lunchtime in the school cafeterias.
“Each year we have the special meals at school and the students always love it,” explained Tucker.
Since the students were studying virtually, she was sad that they would not be able to benefit from the annual tradition. She knew she could distribute meals through a pick-up plan, but realized they would be missing a lot of the students. After meeting with the transportation department, they offered to partner with the food service folks and transport the hot meals.
“By running the bus routes out in the county, we knew that would really extend our reach,” said Tucker. “It was important to our department to provide the hot Thanksgiving meal…To us, there was no way we were going to miss it this year.”
So, they came up with the plan to try and deliver them to children’s homes on school buses or for parents to pick them up at school. Drivers were called upon to follow their routes where they knew children lived. Lots of volunteers representing the entire campus were happy to help.
Bus drivers like Patsy Sexton and monitor Sherry Upchurch were amongst the teams willing to help. Children along Columbia Avenue, Conn Street, Grandview Drive and Worsham Lane were greeted by the pair onboard bus 502.
“I feel like the ice cream truck,” as Sexton honked her bus horn to locate the neighborhood children. “I wish I had some music,” as she expertly wiggled the bus between a basketball goal and rose bush in a tight turn-around situation.
Having driven a bus for many years, she has graciously come out of retirement to lend a hand to the school system.
As she completed her route, Sexton spied Carter Road and said that is not on our list, but I think I’ll circle back around there in case there are some children there. Upchurch was ready and able to jump off and meet any children in the vicinity.
Sexton has driven a bus for several generations of families, which fit in with her beautician business schedule. “Oh they’ll think I’m too old to drive,” she laughed. Nothing could have been farther from the truth, because her kid-friendly personality and driving skills were very professional.
“You get attached to the children. You know I never have had much trouble on the bus. Most kids just want your attention,” she grinned.
Of course, none of this wonderful outreach would have been possible without the cooks who have gone the extra mile during the pandemic. “Our entire food service staff at each school prepared the meal the day of and then sealed them in our trays to help with delivery,” explained Tucker.
The cafeterias have become very adept and efficient at cooking the delicious meals and then using their Oliver meal packaging equipment to specially wrap and seal the meal trays with film.
That huge effort was then modified a few days later on November 24th, with the help of donations from several community partners which included: Save-A-Lot, American Woodmark, Borden Dairy, Monticello Family Resource Center, Defensive Action Against Drugs and Georgia Burton. The school lunch program gave out 1,500 cooking kits with all the fixings in the weekly pick-up food line so families could have a Thanksgiving meal that they were able to prepare closer to the official holiday.
Tucker is especially proud of her department and very thankful for the volunteers that helped with the distribution of the holiday meals. “We received many positive comments on Facebook and in person. The students that were in the cars were smiling and seemed excited to see everyone and receive the meal...It is all about the smile.”
The holiday meals were such a hit that the hot Christmas meal will repeat the effort. The buses will run the same routes that they did for the Thanksgiving meals. They will be trying to reach the houses that were on their routes, prior to the pandemic.
This time the yellow buses traveling along the curvy roads throughout the county will be delivering hot turkey meals filled with green beans, stuffing, mashed potatoes and rolls – not to mention a smiling in-person contact from their school family.
Check out the day's events during the Thanksgiving Meal Day
Food Prep at Monticello Elementary Kitchen...
Wayne County High School Kitchen working...
Bus Transportation Department ready to deliver...
Back at School for Curbside Service Distribution....