LEWISBURG — When school is called off on short notice, some students will go hungry as a result. When school is in session, Greenbrier County schools provide students with free breakfast and lunch in cafeterias Monday through Friday, while the nonprofit Snacks in Packs program fills the weekend gap by sending students home Friday afternoon with an assortment of nutritious snacks.

But when an influenza outbreak prompted all schools in Greenbrier County to close this past Wednesday, not to reopen until Monday, the community saw a need and rallied to ensure the children would still be fed.

According to Kayla M. McCoy, director of the Greater Greenbrier Long-Term Recovery Committee, a Lewisburg businesswoman was the first to raise the alarm. Siobhan Winters, owner of the children’s boutique Love Child, posted on Facebook about the situation facing the county’s schoolchildren as soon as she learned of the flu-related closures.

McCoy said that Winters “rallied the troops,” soon gaining commitments from the committee and Communities in Schools to provide volunteers to pack paper bags with nutritious meals. The Rev. Joshua Saxe of St. James Episcopal Church in Lewisburg was quick to offer space there to use as a staging site and distribution point, McCoy added.

Other places where the bag lunches were distributed Wednesday through Friday were the Marvel Center, which is on the former campus of Rupert Elementary School; the Alderson Public Library; Spring Creek Station Bar & Grille in Renick; and First Baptist Church of Rainelle.

During the first two days of distribution, volunteers from the organizations listed above, along with other helping hands, distributed a total of 349 meals, McCoy said. Friday added another 300 bags to that total, with 100 bags destined to travel to McDowell County, hard hit by recent flooding.

“We need to get the kids through the weekend, so we beefed up today’s bags,” McCoy said Friday, explaining that with school out, the regular Snacks in Packs distribution could not take place.

Lunch bags included either a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a Nutella sandwich, fresh fruit, potato chips, a savory snack and a sweet treat.

McCoy thanked the businesses and individuals who made the food in the bags possible. Contributors of foodstuffs included Kroger in Fairlea, the Greenbrier Sporting Club and Edith’s in Lewisburg. In addition, more than $1,000 in cash was collected toward this effort.

Once Friday’s bags were filled, organizers planned to divvy up the remaining food among the Snacks in Packs program and other local nonprofit feeding endeavors, McCoy said.

“We’re going to spread the love around,” she noted.

She also gave a shout-out to Road Hog’s Barbecue in White Sulphur Springs and The Local in Lewisburg, both of which provided free lunches for students during the schools’ closure.

Once the current crisis ends, McCoy said the participating organizations plan to review the outcome of this event as well as two other similar situations that occurred in recent years, with an eye toward developing a strategy for a faster coordinated response in the future.

“This is the third time in three years we’ve had to feed children because schools were closed for multiple days,” McCoy said. “It’s an issue in our community.”

— Email: talvey@register-herald.com

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