​More Than Meals: Massive Summer Program Makes an Impact

Made both possible and necessary by the pandemic, the impact of this summer’s free meal program is far reaching. A partnership between The University of the South and the South Cumberland Community Fund, the 2020 summer meal program has served 30,000 meals to plateau children thus far, and plans to serve another 20,000 before service ends on July 31. As a point of comparison, the program served about 6,000 meals throughout the entire summer of 2019, which is a volume increase of nearly tenfold.

The significant expansion of the program is enabled by the USDA and realized by more than 130 dedicated plateau employees and volunteers. Per the COVID-19 crises, the USDA has relaxed its summer meal program regulations in order to safely reach more children. The waivers translate into drive-through, grab-and-go style distribution and the ability to serve up to 10 meals at a time to each child—typically five breakfasts and five lunches.

The South Cumberland Summer Meal Program, as it is officially known, is administered by the VISTA program at The University of the South and made possible by a broad swath of the plateau community. This includes more than 90 employees at the University’s McClurg Dining Hall, 14 local Summer Associate VISTAs, local school principals and staff, and more than 20 community volunteers from Monteagle Elementary, Morton Memorial UMC, Ben Lomand Connect, Mountain T.O.P., Epiphany Mission Episcopal Church in Sherwood, and The University of the South. Additionally, an unknown number of volunteers throughout the community have sewn hundreds of masks donated for use during meal distribution.

“The show of community support has been incredible. Every single day both employees and volunteers go far above and beyond the call of duty,” said Katie Goforth, VISTA Manager at The University of the South. “The program has brought the plateau community together in trying times. It’s about getting meals to children and everyone is very committed to that.”

Operating at 15 sites in Grundy, Franklin and Marion Counties, the program’s largest distribution partner is Grundy County Schools, from which the vast majority of meals are distributed. “We are extraordinarily grateful to provide so many meals to our children this summer,” said Russell Fugate, Director of Nutrition for Grundy County Schools. “We have many to thank: our staff and principals, the VISTAs and the herculean effort of the McClurg Dining team. None of this would be possible without them.”

More than 90 employees strong, the McClurg Dining staff is busy most summers, serving summer school students, the community and participants of the University’s popular residential summer programs. Not so this year. COVID-19 safety measures meant the cancelation of all on-campus programing this summer. While a disappointment, it was also a turn of good fortune for plateau families and the community overall. The McClurg Dining team unexpectedly became available to support a large-scale summer meal program. “It was truly a fortunate coincidence,” said Chef Rick Wright, Director of Dining Services. “It’s one of those rare moments when much good comes out of an otherwise negative situation.”

“One big challenge was finding a way to work together safely,” said Wright. The McClurg management team put a number of CDC-approved and recommended safety precautions in place including staggered shifts and plenty of PPE. The McClurg staff is busy this summer and though it’s difficult to calculate, “Our food suppliers, their delivery teams and our employees certainly have more work, thanks to the large-volume orders,” said Wright.

“The summer meal program is a true team effort and a morale booster in very difficult times. It’s rewarding for us all to be making such a large impact in the community, in which most of us live. Everyone wins— kids, families, employees, VISTAS, community volunteers and our suppliers. It’s work everyone feels good about,” said Wright.

All children 18 years old and under are welcome to receive free meals. Children need not be present during meal distribution, which means parents or other adults may pick-up meals for children who are at home. At most locations meals are distributed in grab-and-go fashion with as many as 10 meals per child distributed at one time.

The University of the South in partnership with the South Cumberland Community Fund encourages all plateau families with children to participate in this free meal program. All children 18 years and younger are welcome to receive meals at no charge regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability.

The complete summer meal service schedule for the week of July 13 is as-follows:

Monteagle Elementary School, 120 E. Main St., Monteagle, Monday, through July 27, 10 a.m.–noon

Tracy Elementary School, 276 3rd St., Tracy City, Monday, through July 27, 10 a.m.–noon

Coalmont Elementary School, 7862 SR 56, Coalmont, Monday, through July 27, 10 a.m.–noon

Pelham Elementary School, 2402 SR 50, Pelham, Monday, through July 27, 10 a.m.–noon

Palmer Elementary School, 226 Palmer Rd., Palmer, Tuesday, through July 28, 10 a.m.–noon

North Elementary School, 309 Main St., Altamont, Tuesday, through July 28, 10 a.m.–noon

Swiss Memorial School, 477 55th Ave., Gruetli Laager, Tuesday, through July 28, 10 a.m.–noon

Grundy Housing Authority, 187 Raulston Ave., Monteagle, Wednesday, through July 30, 9–11 a.m.

Epiphany Mission, 62 Mountain Ave., Sherwood, Friday, through July 31, noon–1 p.m.

Rain Teen Center, 626 Bennett Cemetery Rd., Decherd, Wednesday, through July 29, 5–7:30 p.m.

Grace Center for Hope, 912 S. College St., Winchester, through July 30, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, 11:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m.

Franklin Co. Prevention Coalition, 900 S. Shepard St., Winchester, Monday and Tuesday, through July 28, 5:30–7:30 p.m.

The 2020 Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) is administered in Tennessee by the Department of Human Services under an agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). If you wish to file a Civil Rights program complaint of discrimination, complete the USDA Program Discrimination Complaint Form, found online at or at any USDA office, or call (866) 632-9992 to request the form. You may also write a letter containing all of the information requested in the form. Send your completed complaint form or letter to us by mail to:

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Director, Office of Adjudication, 1400 Independence Avenue, S.W., Washington, DC 20250-9410, by fax at (202) 690-7442, or email at <program.intake@usda.gov>.

Individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing or have speech disabilities may contact USDA (800) 877-8339; or (800) 845-6136 (Spanish).

USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.