Mineral school meal program suspended

Mineral County Schools bus driver Lantz Evans delivers bags of food to students along state Route 28 south of Fort Ashby, W.Va., on Monday.

KEYSER, W.Va. — Mineral County Schools' meal pickup and delivery program that had been in place to provide food to students while West Virginia schools are closed was suspended Monday.

Superintendent Troy Ravenscroft announced the suspension on social media, saying it was "no longer in the best interest" of the community to continue with distribution as it currently exists due to safety concerns.

Meals were delivered Monday, and Ravenscroft later added on Twitter that that delivery included multiple days' worth of meals.

Following that, he and other school officials will work on "new meal solutions" to serve the students, the details of which they hope to announce later on this week. 

Reached by email Monday morning, Ravenscroft told the Times-News that he'd come to the decision as he had grown "increasingly concerned with the amount of (necessary) interaction taking place in the process of prep and delivery."

"(Governor Jim Justice) has told West Virginians to stay home, limit interactions, and he also advised employers to let employees work from home," he wrote. "At the same time, we're being requested to feed thousands of students. We have been placed in this middle ground between stay home — but feed students. The need to feed students has been weighing on me the most, specifically as it relates to the impact of potentially not helping slow the spread of the coronavirus with our current process."

Ravenscroft said the focus will be on working to "find a safer alternative to help our most needy without too much personal interaction," and said staff had been advised of the decision Sunday evening so they could plan and package accordingly. They've not yet developed a firm alternative, he said, but stressed, "We will not abandon our neediest students."

"We delivered today, most bags included at least three days of meals — this will buy us a bit of time to develop a new plan to reach those who need us the most," Ravenscroft wrote.

Per his social media posts, on Thursday last week 4,400 meals were distributed to students throughout the county. 

"We initially were working to feed as many as possible, regardless of need, which was approximately 2,000-2,500 students daily," he wrote when asked how many students the program fed and if the one devised in its place would be able to accommodate the same amount. "If we move to specifically focus on our neediest students, this will be in the neighborhood of 500, based on estimations. We are gathering information from the schools as we speak to make sure we have a comprehensive list to continue supporting them."

Ravenscroft had previously said last week in statements online that they'd be moving to a modified distribution schedule that would provide meals only on Mondays and Wednesdays. The decision to suspend the program "was not easy, we want to feed our students," Ravenscroft wrote in Monday's statement. "But we also want to exercise an abundance of caution regarding the health and safety of our community."

Follow staff writer Lindsay Renner-Wood on Twitter @LindsayRenWood.

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