When the school year was cut short by the COVID-19 coronavirus, Jamie McClung and his students at Fort Payne High School found themselves in isolation at home, wishing there was more they could do.
“My Gigawatts robotics members and I wondered what we can do to help,” he said. “I read about a lady in Mobile who is fundraising money to purchase meals from the local restaurants and provide those meals to essential workers on the frontline of this virus. We thought this was a wonderful idea that we would like to begin for our community.”
Because the school couldn’t officially sanction a student project, McClung took the reins with some of his students volunteering behind the scenes. On April 20, he set up a web page on the crowdfunding platform GoFundMe with a goal of raising $5,000 at https://www.gofundme.com/f/rjmpha-feeding-the-frontline. GoFundMe allows people to donate to a user’s cause through the website using a debit card or credit card and track the progress of their funding.
As of Thursday morning, McClung’s GoFundMe page had raised $550 from 12 donors, some choosing to remain anonymous, and the project was shared with people through integrated social network links (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and email at least 110 times.
On Thursday, McClung and volunteers used some of that money to purchase meals from The BBQ Place at 1502 Gault Avenue S in Fort Payne. The restaurant’s dining room has been closed to meet public health orders, but the drive through window has been filling to-go orders for chicken fingers, pork and beef meals during the shutdown. McClung selected the restaurant because, he said, owner Matt Hood has always been good to him and the robotics team students.
The packaged meals were delivered Thursday to DeKalb Regional Medical Center Director of Operations Ashley Mathews, representing the Environmental Services (EVS), materials management and facilities management personnel.
These workers perform tasks to clean the hospital so it remains an infection-free environment, ensure the hospital is properly stocked with the right products and equipment and keep the organization operate smoothly and safe by preventing power or equipment failures.
While others in the community have made similar gestures of support to nurses and physicians at the Fort Payne hospital, McClung said he specifically wanted to express gratitude to the people working there in support positions who are also risking their lives to maintain a safe and hygienic environment for nurses, doctors, outpatients, inpatients, staff, visitors and others.
“We are so thankful for the outpouring of community support during these unprecedented times,” Mathews said. “The food, encouragement, and kindness shown to us have been heartwarming. When we receive a call from individuals like Laurel [Shugart, an upcoming sophomore at FPHS], you can hear the compassion in their voice. We try to communicate the kindness expressed by those providing the meals to the individuals receiving the food.
“I wish those providing the food and support could see how much it means to our team. COVID-19 has changed so much for everyone. I can’t express how grateful we are to receive this encouragement from the community. It has truly been a blessing to witness,” Mathews said.
McClung hopes to continue on delivering meals to frontline workers, saying, “they’re helping us all during this time and we want to express our gratitude for their efforts. The meals are starting with workers in the medical fields, and depending on the support, we’ll move onto next to grocery store workers, first responders, etc.”
He encouraged the public to help by donating to the GoFundMe page and by sharing the campaign to let others know.
“This is a great way to support local restaurants while showing appreciation to those helping our community,” McClung said.
“I will post pictures on social media and the GoFundMe page of each pick-up and delivery so that people can see the difference their donation makes. In addition, I will post receipts and a balance sheet so they know where the money went,” he pledged.
The teacher said he has enjoyed keeping in touch with the kids online. He has worked in the Fort Payne school system since 2013 in the field of computer science and engineering concerned with robotics, which are devices that can move and react to sensory input.
McClung gave special praise to Shugart, saying she played a big part in making the project happen.
“She is a member of our robotics team and has been influential in making the contacts and developing the project. It is amazing to see a young person take the initiative make a difference like she has,” he said.
When schools were ordered shut down a month-and-a-half ago, the FPHS robotics team was two weeks away from competing against 56 other teams from across the globe at the April 1-4 Rocket Center Regional competition at the Von Braun Center in Huntsville. This competition pits teams and their robots against each other in a fun and team reflecting superior performance in the area of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), and this was the first time any secondary school had won it.
The Gigawatts Robotics program has grown to have the three middle school robotics teams and now a high school team with over 25 members. McClung and his wife Regan have coached them, along with Lori Bible.
In early March of this year, the local school board recognized FPHS for receiving the 2020 Alabama Arts Education Initiative Grant for $20,000 in a collaborative effort between the McClungs and the high school arts with Lauren Everett.
Like many students who will never know what the rest of this school year might have held for them, these robotics team students can only take away the rewards earned from practicing their skills and gaining practical experience from the teamwork that went into preparing.
A consolation prize has been re-directing those teamwork skills into helping their teacher do something to give back to the community.
Volunteers on Thursday included Lori Bible, Barrett Bible, Sharon Nappier and Cain Nappier.
Being adept at using technology has allowed many of the kids to contribute as best as they can, safely from a distance. In doing so, they’ve perhaps learned the greatest lesson: “It’s important to help out if you can when times are tough,” McClung said.
He lives, in part, by the words of Dean Kamen, (creator of the Segway), “We are not using kids to build robots, we are using robots to build kids.”
McClung is serving as an example to others by living out the philosophy he adopted as his personal motto: “Be the change that you want to see in the world.” – words originally spoken by Gandhi.
To learn more and make a donation, visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/rjmpha-feeding-the-frontline.