A stream of yellow buses rumbled into an Aiken High School roundabout Tuesday morning as crews prepared and loaded food – breakfast and lunch – for delivery to students across Aiken County.
Thousands of meals will be distributed across the Aiken County Public School District every day for the foreseeable future, according to district Superintendent King Laurence and Chief Operations Officer Shawn Foster, as schools statewide are shuttered in the face of a novel coronavirus pandemic.
S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster on Sunday ordered all public schools, universities and colleges to close through the end of the month. The decision, similar to what was done in North Carolina, affects hundreds of thousands of students, tens of thousands of teachers and countless families across the Palmetto State.
More than 30 cases of the novel coronavirus were reported in South Carolina as of Monday. None are in Aiken County.
Foster, who was helping with the free-meal distribution Tuesday, said the public school district is "feeling pretty good" about its plans and preparations. Laurence was confident as well.
"I'm going to be honest with you," Aiken County School Board member Patrice Rhinehart-Jackson said, "we're as prepared as we could possibly be at this point."
Getting food to the children, Foster said, is of the utmost importance.
"This is the only meal that many of our kids may get," the chief operating officer said. "That's why we're committed and have a committed group of teachers and bus drivers who understand the importance of feeding our children in this difficult time for everyone."
Drivers making the meal deliveries follow designated routes, the district said Monday, with most finishing around 12:30 p.m. The routes can be found on the district's website.
Troy Toney, a district bus driver with decades of experience, on Tuesday morning said he's never done anything like this. He said he's "loving" the fact that he can help, though.
Foster, with a smile, likened the school buses to an ice cream truck without the music.
"It's our community," Rhinehart-Jackson said. "We have to help each other."
Grab-and-go student meals can also be picked up, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., at any school campus.