By Chris Gregory, Managing Editor

Trousdale County Schools, the Hartsville Rotary Club and the Summer Backpack Program are teaming up to fill students’ minds and stomachs during the summer.

‘Books & Bites,’ a mobile library/cafeteria utilizing a converted school bus, will begin operating in Hartsville next week. The name ‘Books & Bites’ came as the result of a 2018 competition in which students suggested names for the bus.

From June 3-28, the Books & Bites bus will be set up Monday through Friday at two locations: First Baptist Church on McMurry Blvd. and in Hartsville City Park. The bus will be at the church from 11-11:40 a.m. each day and in the park from noon-12:40 p.m.

Chris Gregory / Hartsville Vidette

“It aligns directly with our Read to Be Ready summer program,” said Director of Schools Clint Satterfield.

Any student age 18 or under, or over 18 if they were enrolled in school this past school year, can enjoy a free lunch regardless of income.

“We’d like to reach at least 50 at each site,” said Kathy Atwood, Coordinated School Health supervisor for the school system. “It will be hot or cold lunch depending on the day. We’ll have menus posted as well.”

Atwood said fresh produce and vegetables would be included with the lunches, but added that “a lot of their favorites” would be on the Books & Bites menu.

Funding is part of the regular school lunch budget under a program called “Seamless Summer.”

“It’s a continuation of the free breakfast/lunch program we have,” Satterfield added. “The idea is to feed children during the summer months, to continue to provide nutritious meals.”

In addition to the bus, an open breakfast and lunch are being provided each weekday at Jim Satterfield Middle School in the cafeteria. Breakfast runs from 8-9 a.m. and lunch from 11 a.m.-noon. Participants should enter JSMS from the Andrews Avenue entrance.

The meals at JSMS are also available to children not yet of school age, with Atwood saying, “If they’re eating table food, they can eat. They don’t have to be enrolled in school.”

Besides food, Books & Bites also has books that can be checked out by students entering grades 1-5. The books were obtained from Barnes & Noble and school staff utilized a list of suggested texts.

“We’re trying to put them on appropriate levels so kids can check out something on their reading level,” said Linda Carey, supervisor of federal programs for the school system.

Children will be encouraged to check out books on Monday as a librarian will be on the bus on those days. Exchanges will be available any day though.

“Kim Reynolds (librarian) knows these kids. She can say, ‘Here’s books that might interest you,’ ” Carey added.

From idea to reality

The idea for ‘Books & Bites’ came as a result of observing what other communities were doing with similar programs during the summer.

“Our school board went to a convention a couple of years ago and Greeneville City Schools did a presentation on their program,” Satterfield said.

The School Board took a retired school bus and began looking for ways to make the conversion. The Hartsville Rotary Club assisted, providing over $6,000 in funding for the program.

“We saw Books & Bites as a continuation of our mission to help make our community a better place,” said Chris Gregory, president-elect of the Hartsville Club. “It fits perfectly with our four-way test – the ethics code we strive to operate by – as it is beneficial to all concerned; the children of Hartsville and Trousdale County.”

Rotary members built the shelving that was used in the library portion of the bus as well.

School officials also looked at a similar program in the Lebanon Special School District and in Rutherford County.

“I thought, ‘What a great idea!’ ” Atwood added. “We wanted to see how we could take the food to where people might be.”

A test program was held last July in the park and served an estimated 25 to 30 students each day for a week. While the bus will only be running in June this year, the hope is to be able to expand operations in the future.

Satterfield said the decision to operate in June was made because it fit with the schools’ Read to Be Ready summer reading camp and also because families were more likely to be traveling in July, potentially lessening demand.

For more information on Books & Bites, contact Trousdale County Schools at 615-374-2193.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or [email protected]