Highlanders Rise: Keeping kids fed by the bus load
Each weekday morning, Adam Berry boards a school bus and rides for nearly two hours along Peppers Ferry Road.
The bus makes frequent stops, as it normally does along this route, not to pick up or drop off school children – that stopped when Virginia schools closed due to COVID-19 concerns – but to deliver breakfast and lunch to kids at their homes.
As a junior education major at Radford University, Berry has been working as a teacher’s aide at Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) since August. When Gov. Ralph Northam closed schools in March to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Berry was given a choice to end his work as an aide or stay with the school system to help with the lunch program.
As someone who is passionately preparing to dedicate his professional life to teaching and the growth of children – his 12th grade English teacher said she could not see him doing anything other than being a teacher – the Toano, Virginia native quickly chose to stay on board with MCPS by helping other aides and school cafeteria workers deliver meals to children of families struggling through the pandemic’s uncertainty.
“All the sudden, their kids are home, and it’s just not in their budgets to provide food for them, especially now that so many are laid off of work,” Berry explained. “So many are on free- or reduced-cost lunch, and so many families just can’t afford to feed their children three meals a day, seven days a week, all 365 days of the year.”
Before deliveries can begin each day, Berry and a staff of bus drivers assemble the meals into a bag. There is enough food for breakfast and lunch along with two milks. Then, the workers board the buses and begin motoring along the route, twice, beginning at 11 a.m. and finishing before 1 p.m.
The daily deliveries are showing Berry how incredibly necessary the meals are to the children. “Food is one of the basic needs of every human, and it’s important for these kids to get that food to continue their learning and development,” the aspiring middle school math teacher said.
“When you interact with these kids, you see in their faces that they need this meal. When they see the bus roll up, there are some bus stops that the kids can’t stop jumping in excitement.”
There is one particular moment that remains fresh in Berry’s mind each day.
There is a family “that walks down a hill from some houses behind some trees to the main road,” he said. There’s a little boy, probably 3 years old, who comes out with his older sister. He’s always so excited to see us and waves at us the entire time we are at a stop. He won’t stop waving until we can’t even see them anymore. You can tell their family is in need, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he shares the meal with his older sister.”
The deliveries also show Berry and the staff how much the children and their families appreciate them and their efforts, not only now during the pandemic, but each day throughout the school year.
“The biggest thing I’m taking out of this is the importance of bus drivers and cafeteria workers,” Berry said. “They play a huge part in the lives of each student and can make the biggest impacts on them outside of a classroom setting.”
Every day, Berry hears stories from bus drivers and cafeteria workers about the school children, and he sees the joy kids get from their interactions with them.
“I now know the true importance of these jobs; it’s so much more than just transporting kids and giving them food, it’s about the connections that you can’t get in a classroom setting,” Berry said. “The rewards of this program go further than just that. It helps me think of how I can change as a person to better adjust to what some kids could be going through in the future as a teacher.”
#HighlandersRise is an initiative to spotlight how Radford University students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members push through fear and frustration to pursue their hopes and dreams, even in trying times. Our resiliency sustains us, and our responsiveness empowers us. The entire Radford family, both near and far, is demonstrating a tremendous amount of strength during the unprecedented times we are facing locally, regionally and globally.