ATLANTA — The National Guard is stepping in to help Atlanta Public Schools provide thousands of meals to families in need, but superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen said she is concerned about the ongoing need.
Hope Hill Elementary in Northeast Atlanta is just one of 10 sites that APS uses to house its huge food distribution program.
Carstarphen told 11Alive that families can drive-thru or walk-up to collect items. APS is providing five breakfast and five lunch meals for students and their families, once a week on Mondays.
The district will also give out a bag of weekly groceries.
“I’ve been reaching out to the governor, our Atlanta delegation, our city hall making multiple requests very early on -- well over a month ago asking for national guard support,” Carstarphen said.
APS said the National Guard members are doing the heavy lifting.
“The crates are heavier, the bags are heavier we are getting five days worth of food per child so it becomes a little more difficult and you need a different kind of support.”
Carstarphen said about 400 people -- staff, volunteers and National Guard members -- helped to give out 160,000 meals on Monday alone.
Previously the district handed out food every weekday, but this week switched to only handing out food on Mondays to protect the health of those distributing the food and the families receiving it.
"Manage the amount of exposure they have in the public and also it gives us a little bit of time between the deliveries, Monday to Monday, for people to check on their health, look at their symptoms and not come to work if they aren't feeling well," Carstarphen said.
During spring break, 11Alive was there as parents lined up hours early to receive food at Bunche Middle School. Cars filled the parking lot and stretched down the street. It was a sign of the overwhelming demand for help as families struggle through the COVID-19 pandemic.
"A lot of families are in pain," Carstarphen said. "A lot of families feel that it is getting more desperate."
The district's superintendent though fears as the current health crisis continues, the need for help will only increase. Carstarphen believes by summertime the food could run out.
"We worry about the summer. We will not be able to continue the model as is. We aren't even provided resources from the federal government in that way to be able to do the design at this level. So we don't have any additional resources except from the generosity of private donors," Carstarphen said.
She added for the food to not run out, something will need to change.
"Whatever we can do to support them we will, I just think we just can't be the only part of the system that is out front on it," Carstarphen said. "Many more people need to step-up."
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