Dadeville lunchroom manager Elaine Smith asked her staff to prepare for a normal school day as area schools started emergency feeding programs Monday in the wake of COVID-19.

Like other school leaders, Smith had no idea what to expect.

“I’m not sure what the weather will do to turnout,” Alexander City Schools superintendent Dr. Keith Lankford said waiting on cars to arrive at Stephens Elementary School. “I think the rain may discourage them.”

At the end of the day Tallapoosa County Schools served more than 600 students and Alexander City officials handed out enough meals to feed 282 students. Tallapoosa County Schools superintendent Joe Windle said he hopes to see it increase today.

“The word will get out now — you can put things out in all the different avenues we put them out, communications we use, but nothing like word of mouth, and these parents will spread it now,” Windle said. “I think we’ll go up to 1,000 (today).”

Alexander City School district food service manager Laresa Griffin could use only experience getting ready for Monday’s mission. Griffin and her staff are used to the summer feeding program and instinct kicked in when a volunteer offered to carry a cardboard box to the dumpster.

“We don’t let those go,” Griffin said. “We learned in the summer feeding program that they are very valuable.”

Monday’s program was different for the staff as it readied meals at Stephens.

“The difference is in the serving,” Griffin said. “We are used to using the serving lines in the cafeteria and the students coming through the cafeteria.”

Monday, Griffin and her staff waited in the cafeteria as central office staff donned protective gowns, gloves and masks to pass bagged meals of sandwiches and corndogs through car windows.

Lankford is hopeful today’s turnout will be better as word gets around. Meanwhile Griffin’s staff members readied trays of chicken to be put in the oven early to provide today’s hot meal.

“We are encouraging everyone to participate,” Lankford said. “They don’t have to fill out the form to get the meals. We want to make sure (students are) fed.”

In Dadeville, Smith’s staff prepared for 800 not knowing what to expect. The meals consisted of a breakfast of cereal, juice and milk and lunch was chicken bites, rice, broccoli and cheese and juice.

Jessica Harper brought her two children through the drive-thru in Dadeville. She is concerned about COVID-19 but is more concerned about others and how they are reacting.

“I think people are overreacting,” Harper said. “I think it’s good to take precautions.”

Harper likes the idea of the emergency feeding program.

“It’s great,” Harper said. “It’s wonderful.”

Harper is also concerned about her energy level having kids around the house more.

“Hopefully they will behave,” Harper said. “They will keep me busy. We will be staying outside a lot.”

Before spring break, students thought they would be reunited with their teachers Monday. The coronavirus stopped ithat, but even the glass windows and metal doors couldn’t stop students from calling out to their teachers or Dadeville Elementary School principal Rance Kirby. Kirby was helping hand out meals and instructional packets.

“We did these before we left (for spring break),” Kirby said. “We were anticipating this a little. It’s a five-day packet to help students remember. Every Monday we will hand out new packets.”

Kirby said the teachers are not stopping with just the packets.

“We are going to do some videos and internet things,” Kirby said.

Lankford said packets for Alexander City students will be handed out to students Wednesday.

“We needed some time to prepare for it,” Lankford said. “Many of our teachers started last week.”

Lankford said the packets will be available at the students’ schools from 8 to 10 a.m. Wednesday. He said as things develop, packets and more materials will be made available through the students’ Google classroom and Google Docs accounts.

Lankford was very thankful parents and students were patient as central office staff and other volunteers helped deliver meals Monday at Stephens and hopes more will turn out today between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

“Every parent was so nice and courteous and so gracious,” Lankford said. “I’m really appreciative of that.”

Cliff Williams is a staff writer for Tallapoosa Publishers.