Lee Container Donates Georgia Grown Blueberries to South Georgia Schools

Staff Report From Valdosta CEO

Tuesday, April 14th, 2020

The Coronavirus pandemic has made life difficult for all of us, including families, farmers, and schools.  The pandemic has forced school closures, and area school districts have risen to the occasion by adapting school lunch programs to make regular deliveries of healthy meals to their students. The pandemic has also disrupted the restaurant industry and food shopping, causing a steep drop in purchases of fresh fruit, which is a severe challenge to blueberry farmers throughout South Georgia.  

Located in Homerville, GA, Lee Container Corporation has acted by working with the Clinch County and Brooks County school districts and blueberry farmers to add fresh Georgia Grown blueberries to school lunches.  Robert Varnedoe, President of Lee Container, had the idea to donate funds to enable both school districts to purchase blueberries from area farmers and include them in their school lunches. Mr. Varnedoe lives in Clinch County, and grew up in Brooks County.   Both districts are delivering lunches every week to their students: 875 students in Clinch County and 900 students in Brooks County.  The program is expected to last approximately 6 weeks, and to purchase and deliver over 20,000 pints of blueberries. 

Working with both school districts, Mr. Varnedoe worked out the logistics to deliver the fruit by refrigerated truck to the two school lunch programs. “We support our area schools, and we’re proud of their efforts to provide good, nutritious meals to students during this pandemic crisis. We also wanted to help our South Georgia farmers in these challenging times.  This is a Win-Win, as this will contribute to the children’s health, and help promote healthy Georgia Grown produce in our community.”

In Homerville, Jason Bell is the Director of Operations for the Clinch County Schools, and he’s also a blueberry farmer.  He worked closely with Robert Varnedoe to quickly turn this idea into a working program in two school districts.  “It’s wonderful that we can give fresh blueberries to more local consumers, especially children.  These blueberries are high in antioxidants, which will help boost their immune systems.  They also help us meet our daily fruit requirements for every child’s meal.  Lee Container has not only donated the fruit, they’ve taken care of renting the refrigerated truck and they’ve equipped us with special boxes for packing and carrying the bag lunches.”

Dr. Lori James is the Superintendent of the Clinch County Schools.  Dr. James said, “We’re very blessed to have Lee Container in our community; they’re always willing to help out.  During this pandemic, schools are striving to maintain the education, nutrition, and relationships with their students.  Teachers and volunteers are giving of their time and efforts because they really care for our kids.  When the buses make their rounds distributing these meals, the kids are so excited to see their teachers and receive these meals.  They really miss going to school, and they miss their teachers!”

In neighboring Brooks County, the program is being coordinated with Chynna Wilson, Nutrition Director for Brooks County Schools.  On Easter Sunday morning, Ms. Wilson joined area coaches and volunteers to help unload the pallets of blueberries delivered by Robert Varnedoe in a specially rented refrigerated truck.  In Brooks County, 10 prepared meals are delivered every week by school bus to 900 students.  Ms. Wilson said, “We’re just ecstatic about this generous donation.  Each child will receive two pints of these sweet treats every week.  I know how important it is for kids to have good nutrition, and especially during a public health crisis.  These blueberries couldn’t have come at a better time!  We’re so grateful to Mr. Varnedoe and Lee Container.”

Back in Homerville, Mr. Jason Bell, who is also a blueberry farmer, reflected on the value of this program for area farmers.  “This pandemic has really hit us hard.  Sales to restaurants have basically dried up, and foot traffic in supermarkets is down by as much as 40 percent.  All of this translates into a very challenging market for us just as we’re harvesting our crop.  We’re very grateful for this generous initiative by Lee Container.  I hope other school districts and businesses will imitate this program; it’s helping to make a big difference for a lot of people.”