By AJ O’Leary
Thousands of K-12 students in Orange County rely on free and reduced-price school meals. Thanks to groups like TABLE, these students won’t be left hungry while school is out.
TABLE is a Carrboro-based nonprofit that normally provides students on free and reduced-price plans in Chapel Hill and Carrboro with meals to eat over the weekend, when they are unable to eat at school. But school closures, because of the coronavirus outbreak, have forced volunteers like Eri Bauers to deliver meals directly to students’ homes.
“Actually going to people’s homes and delivering them is awesome,” Bauers said.
Bauers’ duties with TABLE include packing bags full of food and delivering them door-to-door to students’ houses.
“Usually the kids would come and get it, and they were always really excited,” Bauers said. “That was really cool to see.”
Though TABLE provides weekend meals for many students in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, many of those students also mostly depend on school lunch five days a week. To fill this gap, Chapel Hill and Carrboro City Schools set up more than 20 stations throughout Chapel Hill and Carrboro for students to pick up breakfast, lunch or a snack.
Liz Cartano is the dining director of Chartwells Inc., which provides school lunches for the local school district. Cartano said their job has taken on increased importance because so many people’s lives have come to a halt.
“People go longer and longer without pay, without being at work, without, without, without,” Cartano said.
With the support of churches, volunteers and the local hunger relief organization PORCH, the city schools have been able to provide more than 4,500 meals daily since March 16. The pick-up stations provide meals for anyone ages 0-18 who needs them and current plans are to keep serving until April 3.
Cartano said it is particularly important in times like these to help fellow community members.
“The need for support in this community is only going to increase,” she said.
Suzanne Tormollen, TABLE’s community relations director, said TABLE doesn’t plan to stop serving those who rely on their food anytime soon. “We just want to ensure that the kids are getting food for as long as we can do it,” she said.
Tormollen said the group relies on the community to continue the organization’s mission.
“The community has been amazing in terms of donations of food and funds,” Tormollen said. “It’s been insane how much has come in in just a week. But we still are missing food.”
Donations are also important to continue feeding students during the week in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, Cartano said.
Anyone interested in donating to TABLE can drop off food items directly in bins outside the organization’s 209 E. Main St. location in Carrboro, or on their website. Cartano said those who want to help Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools feed students during the week can donate to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Public School Foundation.
Tormollen said items TABLE commonly serves include: soup, mac and cheese, cans of tuna, canned chicken, pasta, pasta sauce, oatmeal, individual cereals, gold fish, granola bars, fruit cups and peanut butter crackers. The nonprofit also receives fresh food from local farms including greens, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, blueberries, apples and oranges.
Those interested in volunteering with any of the food organizations should check whether they are eligible to do so first. TABLE has had to limit its volunteers to those between the ages of 18 and 59 to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Bauers, who has volunteered for TABLE in the past, said she has known about the organization for eight years, ever since a friend began working for there full-time. She said she hadn’t been able to volunteer very often — until she was no longer able to go to her job as a dental hygienist earlier this month.
“Even though I’m technically unemployed, I still am set up to where I can help others,” Bauers said.