By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
BERLIN – At the Harvest Christian Fellowship, volunteers from Riverside Assembly of God in nearby Gorham worked alongside others to prepare 160 grilled cheese sandwiches on Thursday.
Then they packed them in paper bags with juice, chips and a brownie to help feed children in the state’s northernmost city whose schools are closed for three weeks with the rest of the state to fight the spread of COVID-19.
Julie King, superintendent of SAU 3, said school bus drivers were picking up the meals and taking them to four sites throughout the week while the administration prepares a more long-term solution to feed students, which is set to begin next week.
Families were going to locations including the Head Start program, (formerly the Guardian Angel School), Brookside Apartments, the recently shuttered Brown School and at the Harvest Christian Church to pick up brown bag lunches.
King said: “The welcomed help came while our district gets ready to launch a sort of meals on wheels program next Monday.”
“Today they served roughly 120 students,” King said in an email on Wednesday. That number increased to 160 by Thursday.
Pastor Tony Bolens of the Riverside Assembly said his group of volunteers has worked well in the past on similar missions with the Harvest Christian Church and the need for this effort this week has been “great.”
He and Berlin bus driver “Big Bus Russ” Vitko were loading up boxes filled with lunches and placing them in a big red school bus at around 10:30 a.m. on Thursday and driving to distribute them at Brookside Apartments.
On Sunday, after Gov. Chris Sununu announced all schools in the state would close for at least three weeks, Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut said local districts would pull together plans to use bus drivers and redeploy other workers to deliver meals to children while the schools are closed.
Sununu said the drastic measure to close schools will help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. About 44 people in New Hampshire have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Thursday.
Fay Pierce was among the parents and children waiting for the food distribution outside the Harvest Christian Church. She said her daughter, Patricia, 6, goes to the Head Start program, has an immunodeficiency, and another child, age 2, has severe asthma.
On Saturday, Pierce said her doctor placed both of them on “lock-down” for a few weeks to help protect them from getting sick.
“This helps so much,” Pierce said of the volunteer effort.
“In the whole area over here is a lot of low-income families that depend on school lunches,” she said. “From the moms I have talked to in the area, most are devastated there is no school.”
Pierce was standing outside with Gina Savoy and her daughter, Samantha.
They agreed that the help was very welcome and that the meals have been good.
Samantha said she does not like being out of school.
“I hate it,” Samantha said.