By Je’Don Holloway Talley
For the Birmingham Times
The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t slowed volunteer Wanda Hines—she just makes sure she’s safe in all that she does.
“I still get up at 4 o’clock in the morning and get ready for work,” she said. “Personally, [sheltering in place and social distancing] don’t make a difference to me. Life still goes on. You still have to provide for your family, but you gotta be safe while doing it.”
When Birmingham City Schools (BCS) closed in March to reduce the spread of COVID-19, administrators said they would continue to serve lunches. Hines was among the volunteers who helped feed students until the program was discontinued earlier this month.
The good news is that Birmingham city officials have announced the restart of the meal program, adding that several area agencies have established a partnership that has made it possible to serve meals at recreation centers. A program called Kikstart Inc., which has been in Birmingham for a little more than a year, has pitched in, offering free, healthy meals to children between the ages of 3 and 18.
Hines said she plans to reach out to volunteer with those groups: “I feel this way: Children gotta eat, regardless,” she said. “If it’s meant for me to get it, I’m gonna get it. If it’s not, I won’t. Somebody gotta take the chance for our children and do right by them, instead of being scared about a virus.”
“Children Need a Lot of Love”
Still, Hines misses seeing the children.
“Most children need a lot of love, and they talk to you because they don’t have anybody else to talk to [about their feelings], so I give a lot of love,” she said. “They hug me, I love on them, and I miss it.”
Until recently, the Tarrant resident reported to work as a member of the Hayes K-8 school cafeteria management personnel and a custodian for Hoover City Schools at Shades Mountain Elementary School. However, BCS shut down its portion of the meal program on April 6, and her job at Shades Mountain has been cut to twice weekly.
Part of what led Hines to feed children during the school meal program is that she knows what it’s like to go hungry as a child.
“Feeding children every day means a lot to me,” said Hines, who was raised in the Hooper City and Collegeville neighborhoods. “I’m one of those that grew up without having everything I wanted, and sometimes we went hungry …, so I try to make sure these [young people] have a proper meal. I know what it is for a child to come to you and tell you, ‘I didn’t eat last night.’ Sometimes I had to go to a friend’s house to eat and get a meal, so I strive to do better than where I came from.”
Dealing with the Pandemic
Hines, 55, has been at the new Hayes school since it opened in 2012 and has worked with its child nutrition program for eight years. She recently adopted three of her 10 grandchildren—14-year-old twins, a boy and a girl, and a 10-year-old girl. Like everyone else, their personal lives have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I don’t have a social life for real,” she said. “I work too much to have a social life, but my home life [has changed]. My grandchildren are complaining and wanting to get out and go somewhere, so I have to make things for them to do at home.”
Last week, BCS started its online and homeschooling curriculums. Hines said of her grandchildren, “Of course, they’re playing video games and reading. Now they’re doing their school packages, and I have them learning and studying the Bible.”
The A.H. Parker High School grad and mother of five makes sure she stays in contact with her entire family, including her children, ages 37, 36, 35, 30, and 26.
“I FaceTime and talk to my family every day,” she said. “That’s no more than usual. They may not want to be bothered with me, but now I make sure to do it every day.”
As for the best way to deal with the pandemic, Hines said, “We all have to lean and depend on Jesus—He’s the only answer to everything. We’re going through this, but it’s just a phase. It’s a season. We have a season for everything. Eventually, God is going to get in between this and heal. So, we all just gotta stay strong and safe.”
To read more volunteer stories, click one of the links below.