Food turned out to be a challenge. Normally, the center would get its children’s lunches from the county’s school district. But when schools closed, so did their kitchens. Ms. Ballivian’s team was left trying to figure out how to bridge the gap.
Luckily, Ms. Ballivian already had a food handler’s license, and some of her staffers were trained to prepare food. So “we just went to Best Buy and broke a deal with them and got some grills and air fryers,” she said. They improvised lunch each day, throwing chicken nuggets into the fryer or grilling some vegetables.
“Little did we know at that time that this situation was going to stand until now,” she added. “We now have a full meal service program with a brand-new commercial dishwasher.”
In May, she managed to secure a loan of about $500,000 under the Paycheck Protection Program included in the first rescue package Congress passed last March, which carried the center through for a few months. And Virginia, like a few other states, waived its longstanding policy that government subsidies for children would be paid out based on attendance, instead paying child-care centers based on enrollment. Since so many of Ms. Ballivian’s children qualified for government subsidies, that policy provided much-needed relief, she said.
But that policy expired on July 1.
And when in August, the schools didn’t open back up, “the children who were supposed to graduate and go into the school system never did, they stayed with us,” Ms. Ballivian said. “These children are registered in the school system getting virtual education, and what we’re doing here is facilitating that virtual education.”
Enrollment at ACCA didn’t dip much, because the center served essential workers, but the costs of more desks and air filters, not to mention the kitchen equipment, kept adding up. When Covid cases cropped up, parts of the school would have to close for two weeks, resulting in $30,000 of lost revenue each time. By September, the center was starting to lose money.