Berkeley Co. churches partner with school district to feed families during coronavirus closures

Updated: Mar. 27, 2020 at 3:30 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Berkeley County School District has partnered with eight churches to feed children and families during the coronavirus crisis.

Districts receive enough funding from the US Department of Agriculture to only feed children who are 18 or younger, which has left some parents struggling to put food on the table for themselves and the rest of their families. BCSD also doesn’t have enough staff to feed the more than the 32,000 students the district has served since schools were closed nine days ago.

To fill the gap, eight churches have stepped up to serve the community and help families who may have lost their incomes because of closures related to the spread of COVID-19.

“As a church we decided that you can cancel church services, but you can’t cancel the church, and so we just asked what can we do,” Shawn Wood, Freedom Church’s lead pastor, said. “The first partnership we thought of was Berkeley County School District because we know the vulnerable families that are fed by Berkeley County School District. We know the pressure that is on that staff now to meet those families’ needs.”

Freedom Church’s efforts have supplied over 4,000 meals in the last week to families in need in addition to the hot lunches BCSD has been providing to children from a school bus in the church’s parking lot.

Families are given a daily bag that includes dry goods and non-perishables for dinner, snacks, fruit, and breakfast to last them until they can return for lunch the next day. On Fridays, the amount is doubled or tripled to get families through a weekend.

“Though we typically talk about the bad in human nature…in times like this, the church and Americans in general really rise up and do what we need to do,” Wood said.

Freedom Church is also hosting a “hospitality tip jar,” a donation platform to allow the community to give directly to hospitality workers who have recently lost their jobs. Hospitality workers fill out a form that includes their name and Venmo or Paypal information, and people can give directly to the individual through those services.

“I think one observation we all see is that when it’s something like this, it’s an equalizer. People can be at any stage of life and have the rug pulled out from under them, and that’s no excuse for us not to help everyone,” Candice Hilse, Freedom church’s connections director, said. “Really it’s an amazing opportunity for us to pour out love on everyone we come across.”

Freedom Church has also been delivering meal kits to families and elderly individuals that may not have the resources or access to reliable transportation to visit the church directly. Those kits include enough supplies to last a family or individual for a week.

“We’ve also have a weekly delivery team, so everyday we have teams that go out and deliver to different areas of Berkeley County a weekly supply of items. In addition to food, they’re also getting paper products, baby items, really just everything they need to be able to rest and know that they’re provided for and that they’re ok,” Hilse said. “We’re talking about families that are not only out of food, but they’re also homeschooling. Let’s just make it easier on everybody right now and remove some of the obstacles.”

Donations have helped Freedom Church supply up to $1000 worth of product per day.

“We obviously think it’s God, but we end up with $1000 to spend in the donation account, and just turning it right out one day at a time,” Hilse said. “It’s been an amazing thing to watch.”

The eight churches involved in the effort also include Northwood Church, Abiding Word, Faith Assembly, Journey Church, Pointe North Church, Crowfield Baptist, and Reality Church.

Families or individuals can access the hospitality tip jar or apply to receive food or other resources by visiting

Berkeley County School District officials said the community partnerships have been an emotional relief for teachers, social workers, and principals who were concerned about how students and their families would be impacted by extended classroom closures.

“Just news of the closure was weighing on us, the burden of knowing that typically our teachers and schools are the front lines of helping to serve families,” BCSD spokesperson Katie Tanner said. “It really has grown beyond measure from that first conversation with one church to now knowing there’s eight churches that have said we will help…I think everyone is able to rest easier at night knowing that our children and our families are okay and they’re going to be okay and that there are people standing ready to serve them.”

BCSD social workers were able to identify more than four hundred families that face transportation challenges and struggle to access other resources throughout the year. The eight churches have collaborated with BCSD to fill those gaps in service.

“It really uplifts us that we don’t have to carry that burden alone,” Tanner said. “Meeting basic needs. Children can’t learn if they’re hungry.”

Tanner said the coronavirus has stranded school districts in unchartered territory.

“This is unprecedented, and it is a challenge,” Tanner said. “When you talk about 36,000 kids, how do we continue to deliver high quality education. So, we don’t just want to send them home with busy work. Our teachers have worked extremely hard, in a very short amount of time to ensure their lessons are still engaging and that they meeting the needs of children, so that all of this time counts for these kids.”

Tanner said Berkeley County School District is ready to receive children back at any time, but the district is also prepared to handle an extended closure.

“That’s two things that are happening parallel, you’re running those two ideas and those preparations parallel to each other. We have to make sure we’re ready…understanding what we’re confronted with as a nation and as a state right now,” Tanner said.

Berkeley County School District officials announced a new blended learning platform for students and teachers.

The district’s eLearning program has traditionally been used as a make-up day tool, but it had limitations for extended closures.

“We knew that if we saw extended closure like what we were seeing across the nation, that it was going to be very taxing for our educators and for our parents and for our students,” Tanner said. “That platform is going to have some challenges to do an extended closure, instead of just make-up days here and there. So, that’s why this blended learning platform that’s going to be rolling out is very important. It’s going to bring our teachers relief, our principals relief, but also bring our students and parents some relief with how they’re going to continue learning while we are looking at weeks of a closure.”

Tanner extended her appreciation for Berkeley County’s teachers, students, parents, and communities.

“It’s often said, schools can’t do it alone, and you’re seeing that play out,” Tanner said. “In a time of such crisis and such worry and concern, to see the type of movement that we’re seeing in Berkeley County has been amazing. We’ve always said we’re in the best district and that we serve the best families and we have the best partners, and we’re now getting to see that on display. The biggest thing from the district right now is thank you. Thank you to everybody that who’s continuing to make learning possible and thank you to everybody who’s continuing to feed our kids and love on our families.”

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