By Crystal McGough, copy editor
Clay City Manager Ronnie Dixon presented Mayor Charles Webster and the Clay City Council with what he called a “conundrum” at the city council meeting on Tuesday, July 23. Earlier that day, Dixon was contacted by Clay-Chalkville High School Principal Michael Lee, who informed him that the government-funded CNP Summer Food Service Program, which provides free breakfasts and lunches to children and teens in lower income areas during the summer while they are out of school, would be ending for the year as of Friday, July 26.
The problem is that school in the Jefferson County School District does not start back for the students until Aug. 27, leaving three weeks between the end of the food program and the first day of school. For some of the children who have been participating in the CNP SFSP program, the free breakfasts and lunches are the only meals they get during the day.
“They’ve identified 125 kids that have been eating breakfast and lunch at the high school Monday through Friday that are not going to have food starting next Monday,” Dixon told the mayor and council Tuesday.
The city council took time during their meeting to discuss several options to help the children, ranging from seeking help from local churches and organizations, to the possibility of the city paying to continue the program. Dixon did some follow-up on Wednesday to determine what options were available.
Ultimately, the city decided to pay to continue feeding the children in the program, using funds from the $325,000 line item in the city’s budget designated for schools. Each year, as part of the city of Clay’s budget, the city makes a financial contribution to each of the schools in August and January, at the start of the school semesters.
“That money would just come from the money that we normally would donate to the school in August, anyway,” Dixon said. “What we have worked out is that the city is going to purchase the food, and then (CCHS Principal Michael Lee) and Coach (Drew) Gilmer are going to put together coaches, coaches wives, booster club members; they are going to prepare the food. They are going to do something simple like sandwiches and milk, things like that.”
Additionally, Wood Fruitticher Grocery Co., Inc. is going to work with CCHS to help develop the menu and get the school the food it needs for the students.
“That’s the plan we came up with: basically, the city’s financing it and the coaches and the booster clubs are providing the manpower,” Dixon said. “So we’ll make sure that those 125 kids get fed for the additional … days that they were going to not be fed out of the summer program.”
Dixon said that the city should be able to provide the 250 meals per day for the additional 15 days for around $1,000/day or less. The program is open to children throughout the community; not only high school students or residents of Clay, but students from all grade levels that attend school in the city of Clay.
The city is not asking for any residency requirements, as the mayor and council are aware that many Clay and Clay-Chalkville students live in Center Point and unincorporated Jefferson County. The city’s primary concern is making sure that children are fed, regardless of where they live.
CCHS Principal Michael Lee said that through the CNP program, the staff at Clay-Chalkville High School has been able to serve meals to children from pre-school through 18 years of age this summer. The school’s athletic teams have used the program the most, as the student athletes spend so much of their summer at the school, he said.
“This year is unique because our students aren’t starting back to school until August 27th,” Lee said. “Understandably, the summer feeding program has to shut down in order to get ready for school to start. This was going to leave us with around three weeks that our 125 athletes that are here at the school each day (would have) nothing to eat. I reached out to the City of Clay and they did what they always do … they stepped up and figured out a solution to help our kids. We are very fortunate that Mayor Webster, and all of our city councilors do what they do for our schools. They take care of kids. Period.”
Both Lee and Head Football Coach Drew Gilmer said that the Clay-Chalkville coaches and athletic booster clubs go above and beyond to help Clay’s students.
“Our booster club helps in any way they can,” Gilmer said. “They help provide meals and pay for a lot of our equipment needs. Our coaches are some of the best people I know. They always go above and beyond when it comes to helping our kids. They make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for our kids on a daily basis. Not only do they help prepare some of the food for the kids but they also help pay for some of the food out of their on pocket. They do this because they care about kids.”
“They pay for things out of their own pocket,” Lee said. “They prepare meals. They do whatever it takes. However, in this situation, we’re talking about a lot of meals over a three-week time span.”
The staff at CCHS could still benefit from generous contributions from the community to help feed these students, whether with financial help to pay for the food or help from those willing to prepare and serve food to the children.
“When I reached out to the city I was simply asking if there were any churches or organizations that they may know of that might be willing to help,” Lee said. “Our community churches and businesses always go above and beyond to help us with any needs we have so I thought this would be a great place to start. If there are any other groups, churches, or businesses out there that would like to know how they could help, they can certainly contact me at Clay-Chalkville High School.”
For information on how you, your church, business or organization can help, contact Principal Michael Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org or Coach Drew Gilmer at email@example.com.
Anyone who would like to volunteer can contact CCHS athletic director Robert Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We are always looking for any donations that we can use to help these kids and give them the best experience we can,” Gilmer said. “We are blessed to have a great community that supports our kids. Many of the local churches and businesses have donated money and/or food to help us with this. Mayor Webster and the city of Clay has stepped up and found a way to provide these meals to our kids. This just goes to show you what kind of people we have leading the city of Clay. We are very thankful to have a mayor and city council that truly cares about people.”