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National Guard is assisting Atlanta district with food distribution

April 15, 2020
The school system district distributed about 160,000 meals this week to needy students.

About 50 members of the Georgia National Guard are assisting Atlanta Public Schools with its new weekly food distribution program.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the district is the only school system in Georgia that has requested assistance from the Guard.

Atlanta students and teachers are in the fourth instructional week since school buildings closed in an attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus. This week also launched the district’s shift to a new food distribution schedule.

For several weeks, the Atlanta district provided free breakfast and lunch to students five days a week at 10 distribution sites and along bus routes. But beginning this week, the district shifted to a once-a-week program.

The change is intended to improve efficiency and reduce how much workers and families are potentially exposed to the virus.

On Monday, about 400 district employees, guardsmen, and a few deputies from the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office gave out bags full of five days worth of breakfast and lunch meals. All told, the district and partner food organizations have distributed about 160,000 meals in one day.

That’s more than double the 70,312 meals the Atlanta district distributed during the first week of the meal program back in mid-March.

Superintendent Meria Carstarphen says she asked for military help because the food program is a physically demanding and complicated large-scale operation. As the weather gets warmer and the bags get heavier with a week’s supply of food, the job gets harder.

“You try carrying two crates of milk and what felt like a 30-pound bag of food in the sun and heat,” Carstarphen says. “You are doing some heavy labor.”

Warmer days mean workers have to move quickly to make sure perishables stay cold. As the temperatures climbed and the closures dragged on, Carstarphen said more problems also developed.

About 52,000 students are enrolled in Atlanta Public Schools. Many live in poverty and rely on the school’s free meals.

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