School District, Chartwells serve students free meals through summer
Posted on 08/12/2019
Children gather at Poplar Bluff Head Start to enjoy lunch.

Chartwells, the longstanding partner of Poplar Bluff Schools, was awarded a near $5,000 equipment grant through the No Kid Hungry Missouri initiative to extend the district’s food service program from July 1-Aug. 2 for students in need following summer school. 

Through the competitive grant, the food service vendor was able to purchase multiple rolling carts for hot and cold food storage, as well as portable picnic tables and canopies for comfortable dining.

A balanced menu was created and two successful off-campus sites were chosen – Wheatley School and Poplar Bluff Head Start – to serve free lunch to children up to age 18, as well as offer breakfast at the Garfield Street location.

“Food scarcity is a real thing in our country and community, so you have to do something about that,” said Dr. Scott Dill, superintendent of schools. “I, like most of my peers, got into this business because we care about kids – and not just from 8 to 3 [o’clock], August to May, but all the time.”

Since his arrival, Dill has been in talks with Dixie Harden, food service director, about identifying opportunities to extend meal preparation beyond the school year for children living in food-insecure homes. When the superintendent assumed his post with the R-I district in 2016, summer break for students was maximized for contractors to meet building construction deadlines, and Dill said he could recall hearing about the inadvertent impact the timetable had on local food pantries.

“Yeah we serve meals while school is in session and even give out backpacks for the weekend, but I think a major concern Dr. Dill and I shared was: What about these kids who don’t have food during the month that we don’t have summer school?” Harden explained. “I know quite a few people that struggle to get by.” 

The initial open sites were selected based on free and reduced lunch rates within the district. Wheatley School also happens to have a captive audience in July because of Super Kids Camp, an enrichment program offered at the community center. Taking over food service operations would allow volunteers to reallocate their resources to other aspects of maintaining the historic facility, according to Dill. 

No Kid Hungry Missouri, in cooperation with the Family and Community Trust, has a mission to eliminate child hunger in the state by working with schools, agencies, private organizations, businesses and individuals to implement common sense solutions to ensure kids have access to nutritious meals. Administered by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, the meals are federally-reimbursable through the United States Department of Agriculture. 

In addition to the new summer food service program, which has the ancillary benefit of allowing for the continued employment of several food service professionals, Chartwells continues to explore options to combat hunger. School leaders are currently considering the possibility of serving dinner to students engaged in extra-curricular activities during the school year. 

In 2018, Harden earned the national ‘Be-A-Star’ Compass in the Community award through Chartwells’ parent company for successfully partnering with more than a dozen community organizations. As part of the volunteerism, Harden helps supply between 130-140 Mule Packs filled with nonperishables to Poplar Bluff students in need bimonthly throughout the school year. 

“I like to help other people and I like to cook, so I’m blessed to get to do something for a living that I’m passionate about,” Harden stated. “I believe that’s why we’re here.” 


Cutline: Children gather at Poplar Bluff Head Start to enjoy lunch on July 24 through the Summer Food Service Program sponsored by Poplar Bluff Schools.

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