Amid School Shutdown, Harrisonburg Continues Offering Food to Students

Mar 26, 2020

Staff handed out bags of nonperishable food in addition to prepared meals.
Credit Randi B. Hagi

With all Virginia schools closed for the rest of the academic year due to COVID-19, the Harrisonburg City Public Schools have decided to continue the program they started last week to provide bags of free food for all their students under age 18. WMRA’s Randi B. Hagi reports.

Twice a week, Harrisonburg High School principal Melissa Hensley and some of her staff can be found standing outside the school with carts full of bagged food. Cars pull up, the drivers call out how many children they have in the household, and the educators and school nutrition assistants pass bags through the window.

Harrisonburg High School principal Melissa Hensley hands out bags of food.
Credit Randi B. Hagi

MELISSA HENSLEY: Today we have some items from Heritage Bakery that are donated to hand out to just kind of make people’s day, and then we’ve got nonperishable items from one of the food banks. We’re cleaning out our concession stand because we had extra food that was left. We are now putting that into the bags so there are some extra treats in there in addition to the regular meals. There’s pizza today and then some additional fruits and things like that.

Hensley said the first day of the program, Tuesday, March 17th, they handed out about 200 bags of food. When I stopped by a week later, close to the end of the hour-long pickup time, they had given out just over 70.

HENSLEY: We’ve had a good steady flow of folks coming, and a lot of people are really, really appreciative of the fact that we have quite a lot of not only the meals for students, but also some of the extra nonperishable items. We’re hearing some folks really talking about losing employment opportunities at this point, and just really grateful for it. So we’re glad to be here to be able to help out the community.

It's a staff effort: (L to r) Principal Melissa Hensley, Assistant Principal Michael Eye, Finance Officer and Bookkeeper Tammy Atkins, Art Teacher Sarah Waldrop, and Secretary and Receptionist Beth Cash maintain social distance while passing out food to families.
Credit Randi B. Hagi

Regardless of which school their students attend, families can stop by any of the district’s eight school locations between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The current plan is to run the program indefinitely, unless the CDC advises otherwise. And Hensley said that with COVID-19’s effects on the local workforce, the benefactors extend beyond just the children who were already receiving free and reduced meals at school.

HENSLEY: I was just talking to a parent who was about in tears because she just lost her job, and she’s got a number of students in the household, and they’re very involved in our community and our school, and she was just so grateful that we’re here … if anyone needs anything and you have students in the Harrisonburg city school district, please come out and pick up some food.