Columbus Champion | Suzie Gerhardt

EDITOR'S NOTE: “Columbus Champion” is an initiative to recognize and tell the stories of local individuals who have gone above and beyond to make a positive impact on the Columbus community.

If you know someone in the Columbus community who has gone above and beyond to make a positive impact, nominate them as a Columbus Champion!

Written by: Aaron Tomich,
Published: June 8, 2020

On a normal school day, students, teachers, and staff alike would hear the lunch bell ring with cafeterias and lunch tables filled with chatter and chomping.

But now, there is silence. 

The cafeterias have been replaced with socially distant delivery of essential free breakfast and lunch meals for students all around Central Ohio’s Pickaway County.

“We knew we needed to take action to make sure our students had meals,” said Suzie Gerhardt, Food Services Director for the Circleville City School District, who is leading the delivery of weekly meal bags. “We just keep on going.”

Since March 16, and every week through the end of June, Gerhardt works to set the menu for the week. After a menu is set, the volunteer crew assembles 570 bags – one per student and around 8,000 meals in each week – with a grand total close to 62,000 meals since March.

“It shocks me for sure,” she said. 

The backbone of the weekly operation is Gerhardt’s many volunteers. Provided by many community groups, including local churches and neighborhoods, these volunteers take time out of their days to help feed others.

The scale of the operation is massive. But how all does it work, from assembly to delivery?

Gerhardt and her volunteers will gather on a Monday after the menu is established and will pack hundreds of meal bags spread all throughout the cafeteria for the week to come. The menu consists of shelf-stable items, fresh produce (such as apples, oranges, and carrots), string cheese, sandwiches, bagels, cereal bars and more. 

“We load [the meal bags] and take them to an off-site location,” she said.

These locations vary, where one is a curbside pick-up and a few others are local bus stops around the district. She said that there are also direct drop-off spots at students’ houses to best accommodate for unique circumstances.

One unique aspect of this delivery operation is that anyone in the community that is ages three to 18 is eligible to receive a meal bag.

“They do not have to be a student in our district,” she said. “It is open to everybody.”

Gerhardt has been beyond grateful for the help that has poured in from around her community and school district to make this essential operation run smoothly.

“From my own staff, to our superintendent, to teaching staff and community volunteers, there are not enough thank-you’s to those that helped,” she said.

“There is a lot of behind-the-scenes where even though I seem to be the one to get the kudos, I’m just that small part of the very large picture of the people that make a big impact in this.” 

If you know someone in the Columbus community who has gone above and beyond to make a positive impact, nominate them as a Columbus Champion!