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District Grab & Go Program Serves 65,000 Meals, Donations Reach $30K

Superintendent at Grab & Go Meal distribution

Superintendent Sharonica Hardin-Bartley gives air hugs to a young girl during meals pickup on March 23, 2020.
Photo Courtesy of Colter Peterson and St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Grab & Go Program Serves 65,000 Meals in First Month, Donations Reach $30K  

Just Breathe & You've Got This signs

By Nancy Cambria
Director of Communications

This week (April 27, 2020), The School District of University City and its partners Wyman and the University City Education Foundation celebrated two incredible milestones for district families: 

  • More than 65,000 meals served to U. City students since COVID-19 caused the shutdown of its buildings and cafeterias on March 23
  • And, $30,000 raised by the University City Education Foundation to help continue feeding families over the summer months with special care packages containing produce, snacks and household essentials. This marks the halfway point of a $60,000 campaign. To donate, go to www.ucityschools.org/MealAppeal2020.

“It’s been an amazing team effort that has provided essential nutrition, comfort and hope in a time when our families are struggling,” said Superintendent Sharonica Hardin-Bartley.

As a Title 1 District with many families living at near or below the poverty levels, many University City children have long depended on the District to provide them with healthy breakfasts and lunches at school. At the end of the day, the District’s cafeteria workers further provided sack dinners that students could bring home if they needed a meal to tide them over to the next day.

When COVID-19 closed school buildings and cafeterias, officials with the District realized immediately that these students would not get the meals they depended on. Worse, they accurately predicted that food insecurity among District families would grow as businesses and service and hospitality industries shuttered to ride out necessary stay-in-place orders.

Nowhere was that more evident than in the growing number of families utilizing the District’s curbside “Grab and Go” meal pickups each week. Gary Spiller, director of student services and innovation noted that demand for meals increased by 100 students a week from March 27 through March 17. The District is currently feeding about 1,140 students a day through the program.


“It’s been an amazing team effort that has provided essential nutrition, comfort and hope in a time when our families are struggling.”

Superintendent Sharonica Hardin-Bartley


BCJ Meals We Heart U  “It takes a dedicated team of volunteers to ensure that our students do not go hungry,” Spiller said. “When we first started we were utilizing about 50 volunteers a day at our school pickup sites. The District’s operations staff continues to do porch deliveries to more than 100  families who cannot leave their homes or are unable to come to a pickup site.”

Wyman, a leader in student empowerment that has team members embedded in all of the District’s schools, took public health seriously from the first days it envisioned the curbside pickup system. In addition to quickly surveying parents about food needs, they designed a pickup procedure to limit any risk of transmission of the dangerous strain of the coronavirus. The meal pickup program includes a line system for walk-up families to keep people more than six feet apart and a trunk drop-off routine that limits contact with food and our families. 

All volunteers wear face masks and rubber gloves at pickup locations. Additionally, all volunteers now get their body temperatures monitored when they come to work with special infrared thermometers provided by the St. Louis County Health Department.

District officials know that COVID-19 will still impact our families over the summer months as unemployment rates are predicted to remain very high. The University City Education Foundation began an online donation Summer Meal Appeal on Friday, April 17. In less than two weeks, more than $30,000 was raised to provide weekly care packages containing fresh produce, snacks and household essentials to about 150 of our neediest families over the summer.

People and organizations have been giving gifts of $5 to $1,500 to the appeal. Alumni, teachers, board members, U. City residents and residents from surrounding communities have all donated.

“It truly exemplifies our community spirit in University City and in the St. Louis region,” Hardin-Bartley said. “Their compassion is helping to meet the basic physical and emotional needs of our students and families. This is an investment in the future of our students building their resilience and health during an unprecedented pandemic.”

Well-being remains at the heart of the District’s vision of Learning Reimagined because students learn best when they are well and their basic physical and emotional needs are met. The Grab & Go meal program not only delivers essential nutrition but also emotional and learning support for our students. Since the start, families have received regular fliers with activities and tips for parents to healthily navigate the stress of the pandemic.

Bright signs of encouragement reading “You’ve Got This” and “Just Breathe” are a mainstay at all pickup locations. Parents are able to see a familiar smiling face and also inquire about other supports. School social workers and counselors are able to check in with families at the sites and schedule phone calls and other types of ways to connect to help families. 

Books, school supplies and supplemental fresh groceries are also being distributed at the Grab & Go sites to assist families. Nearly all of the supplies have been donated by community partners, companies and local churches. 

Finally, though everyone must stay six feet apart, air hugs are often given and received - another essential way to keep vital connections and relationships with families and children while the District’s classrooms are closed.

The District’s Grab & Go meal program continues, providing three meals a day, seven days a week for any student that needs them. Pickup days are Tuesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Barbara C. Jordan, Jackson Park, Pershing and Brittany Woods Middle schools.

To donate to the University City Education Summer Meal Appeal and to see a video about the needs of our students and families go to www.ucityschoools.org/MealAppeal2020.