Schools are closed across the commonwealth, but each day they are delivering meals to students via school bus — some with Hokies on board to lend a hand.

Graduate student Kelsey Altizer, who is working on her master’s in counselor education through the Virginia Tech Roanoke Center, was interning at William Byrd High School in Roanoke County when its doors closed. She wanted a new way “to fill the void” left by no longer having contact with students. She quickly raised her hand when Roanoke City Public Schools asked for volunteers to help deliver meals.

“I initially had some worry about the health risks, but in the end I felt it was more a benefit for me to help while I was still healthy. Somebody needed to help,” Altizer said. “I knew for many households in the city, a meal could really make a difference.”

Altizer and another person were assigned to a bus that traveled from Round Hill Elementary School. Following his regular route, the driver looped through the neighborhood roads for about two hours. Students waited at their regular stops, eager for the delivery of that day’s lunch and the next morning’s breakfast. Extras were also handed out when requested, usually for siblings who were not there. While her teammate handed out the meals, Altizer checked off the number of meals delivered.

“The students were very appreciative and did not seem hesitant at all to interact with us. On our bus alone, we delivered meals to about 25 people,” Altizer said. “I learned how much work and community involvement it takes to provide resources to students during a time like this.”

They also delivered instructional packets to students to help them keep up with their studies.

Altizer, who also works as a graduate assistant for TRIO Programs, part of Outreach and International Affairs, wasn’t the only counselor education graduate student to step forward.

Although her internship was in a Radford City school, Kaitlin Vose also volunteered to help Roanoke City, working on a bus that was loaded with meals at Patrick Henry High School.

“Students and their families were extremely grateful and appreciative of the service and seemed genuinely excited to see the staff of their schools. You could see their faces light up as the bus would approach their stop,” Vose said.

During her two-hour trip around the city, Vose saw firsthand the hardship the crisis was causing in the community. “When I saw adults — who weren’t on our route and didn’t have children with them — trying to stop the buses to get meals, it made the severity of the situation more real for me. People are really struggling during this time.”

Two other counselor education graduate students, Okey Nwokolo and Dryden Epstein, also volunteered on Roanoke City buses.

“Our counseling students are especially aware of how many K-12 students rely on their schools to help meet their basic dietary needs,” said Gerard Lawson, a professor of counselor education in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. “Most of these kids will never know who made the effort to help them, but this service in a time of need helped to make some child’s or family’s load a little lighter, and that is a remarkable gift to our communities.”

 by Diane Deffenbaugh