These are unprecedented times, as the country and the world deals with the coronavirus pandemic known as COVID-19. With all Colorado schools physically closed through April 30 per the stay-at-home order by Governor Jared Polis, another function of the public school process is coming to light; the huge nutritional role that schools play in feeding low-income children and their families. In this, the Buena Vista School District shines.
“This is a huge step for people to be asking for help and it’s OK right now to tell someone that you need help,” said BV School Superintendent Lisa Yates. “Please talk about what you think you might need. Even if you don’t know what you need, ask for help and then someone can help you.”
Grab and Go Student Lunch Program
As the closures began, BV Schools continued to offer their reduced fee and free lunches to needy children as “grab and go” meals, with families doing drive-by meal pickup from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday- Friday at Avery Parsons Elementary School. The large need for nutritional assistance quickly became apparent.
“Our first day was during the emergency closure before spring break. We served 40 meals that day. The next day, just before spring break, we served over 100 meals,” said Yates. “This is growing as the need is growing. This week it’s grown on average 20 to 50 extra meals each day, to the point where we are serving 375 meals every day. It’s enough for a breakfast and a lunch meal. We put it in a bag and families drive up in their car and tell us how many zero to 18-year-olds are in the family. We have volunteers passing the bag to the car, giving them lunch for that day and breakfast for the next morning.”
Yates said that the school asks for the students to be in the car, but they don’t ask many questions. “We don’t know what the circumstances are. What we do know is the daily action of coming by Avery Parsons Elementary School, where the meals are prepared, is a way for us to connect to the students while doing what we can to assure their safety. Right now they need the wave, the sight of familiar faces. For many this is the one time they are getting out. Most of our school counselors are out there most days, and this is a vehicle for us to learn about other needs that might be beyond the nutritional ones.”
As school districts who have never done distance learning before are attempting to shift to online learning, Yates says that beyond the meal program, the school district has continued to reach out to all students. “We are committed, for elementary school-age students, that a staff member is reaching out to every student, every week. You get a better sense of what is happening in that home, how the students are doing. For our sixth through 12th graders the academic connection is virtual and we check in with them. If they haven’t logged in to do their work, then a staff member is reaching out. If that isn’t working, then that counselor checks in and if they still aren’t responding, then the principals are connecting to find out what is going on with that student.”
New Evening Meal Program
The Buena Vista School District has also set up an evening meal program, beginning with a $5,000 allotment voted by the school board, to use for local restaurants to provide meals, not just for families with students, but adults and seniors and those shut-ins who can’t get out.
“We started with what we knew … that there were additional families we were not serving that needed help and that our local restaurants need help. You have an idea just started and we’re refining it. This is a partnership. “We’re figuring it out as we go. We started with a core group, and as we get other donations, we’d like to expand it beyond that.”
Asked how the families receiving these evening meals are identified, Yates explained that individuals and families are being referred from the Chaffee Department of Human Services, and that the need is greater than what they are filling at this time. She added that those students or parents in need of meals beyond what the school is providing each day, should contact their school counselor, a teacher, or leave a message at 719- 395-7099.
Yates made a point of focusing on the restaurants who are the meal providers. This past week the meals have been supplied by Simple Eatery and Eddyline. The school district pays each restaurant $1,200 to supply 120 restaurant meals.
Asked how the families receiving these evening meals are identified, Yates explained that individuals and families are coming from the care line at Chaffee Department of Human Services. The meals are delivered to the school, and evening meal pickup occurs in a different school parking lot from where the lunch meals are distributed. A few evening meals are being delivered directly to elderly, isolated people.
They are looking for meal provider participants. Restaurants who are interested should apply through the Buena Vista Chamber of Commerce (it’s a short form, but necessary to assure that the restaurants have county public health and environmental certification.)
Yates says that while the school district was the catalyst, it is encouraging public participation in funding the evening meal program. Individuals and organizations interested in donating any amount to the evening meal program, should go to this GoFundMe page: https://www.gofundme.com/f/supper-support-access-to-food-for-those-in-need
“If it’s a large donation, say if it’s over $1,000 (you can sponsor a dinner meal for one night for $1,200) then you can make the donation to the BV School District,”added Yates.
“What I want people to know is that the emphasis on this evening meal should be on the partners involved – people who want to find a way to support individual needs and rally for our restaurants too. This is a win-win…that is the idea behind it,” said Yates. “So many people who want to help and this feels like an easy way to help people, without being face-to-face at this urgent time.”