The Coronavirus pandemic has made life difficult for us all – particularly farmers. Homerville’s Lee Container recently did something to help our local farm families and schools.
Lee Container Corporation started a project with the Clinch County and Brooks County school systems, and area blueberry farmers, using local berries in sack lunches distributed by the school system to children while they aren’t in session.
Robert Varnedoe, President of Lee Container, had the idea to donate funds to enable both school districts to purchase blueberries from area farmers and include them in their school lunches. Varnedoe lives in Clinch County, and grew up in Brooks County. Both districts are delivering lunches every week to their students: 875 students in Clinch County and 900 students in Brooks County. The program is expected to last approximately six weeks, and to purchase and deliver over 20,000 pints of blueberries.
Working with both school districts, Varnedoe worked out the logistics to deliver the fruit by refrigerated truck to the two school lunch programs.
“We support our area schools, and we’re proud of their efforts to provide good, nutritious meals to students during this pandemic crisis,” said Varnedoe. “We also wanted to help our South Georgia farmers in these challenging times. This is a Win-Win, as this will contribute to the children’s health, and help promote healthy Georgia Grown produce in our community.”
In Homerville, Jason Bell is the Director of Operations for the Clinch County Schools, and he’s also a blueberry farmer. He worked closely with Varnedoe to quickly turn this idea into a working program in two school districts.
“It’s wonderful that we can give fresh blueberries to more local consumers, especially children. These blueberries are high in antioxidants, which will help boost their immune systems,” said Bell. “They also help us meet our daily fruit requirements for every child’s meal. Lee Container has not only donated the fruit, they’ve taken care of renting the refrigerated truck and they’ve equipped us with special boxes for packing and carrying the bag lunches.”
Dr. Lori James is the superintendent of the Clinch County Schools. She also has appreciative to Lee Container for stepping up to help the schools in this time of need.
“We’re very blessed to have Lee Container in our community; they’re always willing to help out,” she said. “During this pandemic, schools are striving to maintain the education, nutrition, and relationships with their students. Teachers and volunteers are giving of their time and efforts because they really care for our kids. When the buses make their rounds distributing these meals, the kids are so excited to see their teachers and receive these meals. They really miss going to school, and they miss their teachers.”
In neighboring Brooks County, the program is being coordinated with Chynna Wilson, Nutrition Director for Brooks County Schools. On Easter Sunday morning, Wilson joined area coaches and volunteers to help unload the pallets of blueberries delivered by RVarnedoe in a specially rented refrigerated truck. In Brooks County, 10 prepared meals are delivered every week by school bus to 900 students.
“We’re just ecstatic about this generous donation. Each child will receive two pints of these sweet treats every week,” said Wilson. “I know how important it is for kids to have good nutrition, and especially during a public health crisis. These blueberries couldn’t have come at a better time. We’re so grateful to Mr. Varnedoe and Lee Container.”
The pandemic has been particular brutal to local blueberry farmers, who have seen a steep drop in purchases of their fruit.
“This pandemic has really hit us hard. Sales to restaurants have basically dried up, and foot traffic in supermarkets is down by as much as 40 percent,” said Bell, putting on his berry farming hat. “All of this translates into a very challenging market for us just as we’re harvesting our crop. We’re very grateful for this generous initiative by Lee Container. I hope other school districts and businesses will imitate this program. It’s helping to make a big difference for a lot of people.”