'Meals on the Bus' Program Provides Meals to Students; Helps Inmates Learn New Skills

Picture of 'Meals on the Bus' refurbished bus
Friday, June 23, 2017 - 4:00pm
Laura J. Leonard

“The meals on the bus go ‘round and ‘round, ‘round and ‘round, ‘round and ‘round…” 

It’s not a typo – yes, I said meals

That’s because through a partnership between Henderson County Public Schools and Correction Enterprises a typical school bus has been transformed into a vehicle that will deliver meals and books to low-income children across Henderson County all summer. 

During the 39-day program, the refurbished bus will make daily visits to six rural locations beginning June 19 and serve more than 6,000 lunches by Aug. 11. 

This program, imagined and implemented by Henderson County Public Schools child nutritionist Amanda Stansbury, actually brings transformation to many – to the students in western North Carolina and to the Brown Creek Correctional Institutional inmates who made possible the new mission of the bus. 

The ‘Meals on the Bus’ program required a change to occur – to take a school bus designed to transport children to and from school and reimagine it so that it provides a place for children to sit and eat a free meal. 

But it wasn’t just the refurbishment of a school bus that caught Stansbury’s attention; it was Correction Enterprises mission of inmate transformation that caused her to pause and see the far-reaching effects of this partnership. There were physical changes to the school bus, but it also affected the lives of those inmates who worked to retrofit the bus to deliver meals across Henderson County. 

“Just the idea of our project having a positive impact on those who are at the lowest point in their lives in prison is beautiful,” she says. “This is another way of building bridges to those in need and giving something back to our state and community.”

The bus was refurbished by inmates at the BCCI Correction Enterprises Metal Plant near Polkton; they took out the old seats and replaced them with stainless steel tables, benches and serving line, so that students had a place to sit and eat. 

Image of Brown Creek CI inmate working to retrofit bus for 'Meals on the Bus' programInmates across North Carolina work in Correction Enterprises’ facilities to make goods used by local and state agencies. More so, those inmates learn a life skill that can be used when they are released. Many find good-paying jobs through DPS’ re-entry assistance using the skills learned at the Correction Enterprises facilities.

The project draws attention to the plant’s training program that helps released inmates get good-paying jobs. 

“Our inmates took great pride in working on this project,” says Clayton Wright, plant manager for the past 12 years.  

Although the bus project is unique, it represents the scope of work that goes on every day for the 45 inmates who work at Brown Creek Metal. 

“We not only teach the inmates high-value metalworking skills, we also teach them social and workplace skills,” says Wright. “There’s high demand for welders and others with the type of metalworking skills that are taught at Brown Creek.  We have a very good track record placing our inmates with employers.”  

Correction Enterprises Director Karen Brown expands on the transformation found in all of its plants and facilities.

“An inmate who’s been transformed by working at Correction Enterprises for at least six months is far less likely to commit new crimes against people or property and is far more likely to make a positive impact on his neighborhood and family for generations to come,” she said.  

The project not only brings food to children in need but highlights the way programs found in the Department of Public Safety’s Correction Enterprises helps inmates change their lives.

Stansbury describes it as something out of a storybook. 

“This is one of those storybook partnerships that brings together a diverse group of people and organizations like Correction Enterprises to create something truly extraordinary for our community, low-income students and their families,” she said. 

While Stansbury began developing the “Meals on the Bus” program in 2015 in response to Henderson County’s low-income children who live in rural areas, she had already connected with Connection Enterprises back in 2014 when she read a promotional flyer that arrived in the mail one day.

“I saw that (Correction Enterprises) ma(d)e metal grills, so I bought one as a birthday present for someone,” she says. “When the bus project got started, I thought about the grill and got in touch with Phil Vennero (Correction Enterprises sales representative for southwestern North Carolina) who has been a terrific partner in working … to refurbish the bus.” 

It became more than a refurbishing project; it became a way to give back to children and the community. The work was done, and the bus refurbished but Corrections Enterprises also began a book drive among its facilities to help the students served by the ‘Meals on the Bus’ program continue to read throughout the summer.

Correction Enterprises employees donated 2,000 books to the 'Meals on the Bus' programDonations, much like the one Correction Enterprises staff gave, will provide books to help children read all summer. Correction Enterprises staff across the state donated more than 2,000 children’s books that will be distributed from the refurbished school bus. One – Lanesboro Inmate Packaging – collected approximately 1,000 alone!

“A summer away from books can cause low-income elementary students’ reading levels to fall back a grade or two, which has a devastating impact on their ability to keep up with other students,” she says. “Your books are making a huge difference.” 

It all adds up to a “win-win-win” for Correction Enterprises’ inmates, low-income students and Henderson County schools.