Camden school food service director helping to feed families during pandemic

CAMDEN, New Jersey (WPVI) -- A New Jersey school food service director is doing everything she can to provide meals to children during the pandemic.

The silence that fills the usually buzzing cafeteria at Woodrow Wilson High School in Camden, New Jersey can feel deafening. That is until Arlethia Brown walks into the room.

"We have down days as everybody does, what job isn't stressful, right? She walks through the door, she has a smile, loud voice, always hi, how you doing? She's always bubbly, she cheers us up as soon as she walks through the door," said Shantae Wise, a chef with Camden City School District.

She is part of a 50-person team preparing 25,000 meals a week for students and their families in Camden.

Miss Brown, as her coworkers call her, oversees it all as the food service director.

"I don't know if I'm like working on adrenaline or something. I love what I do and I love what the team does," said Brown.

She says when the pandemic started and schools closed, a lot of the kids they serve would not have access to healthy meals.

"These are scary times, but during scary times, this is when we all have to step up, right, because if we don't step up then somebody is going to go without and that's something that we don't want," said Brown.

She, with the help of the district's partners, came up with a plan. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, the team preps meals for the entire week. Tuesdays and Thursdays, the community can come pick it up.

"There are some kids in our community that we know come to school and this is the only meal that they get," said Wise.

The school district has 16 different meal pickup sites around Camden to make the food accessible to every neighborhood. If for some reason someone can't pick it up, then Brown will hand-deliver.

"I grew up here. This is my high school. Camden, I am absolutely committed to this community and the families that are here because these are my families at the end of the day," said Brown.

In a time that can feel so lonely, so isolating for so many kids and families who rely on school, Brown is doing everything she can to make sure no one is struggling alone.

"What keeps me going is knowing that we're supporting someone," she said.
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