Grab and Go Program Tops 500,00 Meal Served
The District’s Grab & Go Meal Program not only provides critical meals, produce, snacks and household essentials to District students during a global pandemic, it also enables families to connect with staff and other community members. Photo by Colter Peterson, courtesy of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Grab & Go Program Tops 500,000 Meals Served
By Heather Gain
Nurturing families was a top priority this summer for The School District of University City and community, which distributed more than 500,000 meals to District families as part of its Grab & Go Meal Program.
The District created the curbside meal pickup when schools closed in mid-March and continued serving families throughout the summer. Students who needed food were given 21 breakfasts, lunches and dinners per week along with other necessary items such as facemasks, fresh produce, toiletries, books and school supplies.
“It has been a great support for our families, and they have been extremely grateful,” said Gary Spiller, executive director of Student Services and Innovation. “I can’t say enough about the team of folks who came together to make this happen.”
“A lot of the credit falls on the community who stepped up to love on these people and make sure they had good things to eat."
- Gary Spiller, executive director of Student Services
The District, which emphasizes well-being in its vision of Learning Reimagined, fed an average of 1,700 students per day during the summer. The program will continue through the fall. Workers with Chartwells Food Service and dozens of volunteers prepared and handed out the meal packages at four school locations. Care packs included items such as cereal, fruit, milk, chicken nuggets, sandwiches and chips.
They also distributed school supplies, hand sanitizer, fliers offering child-friendly at-home learning activities as well as advice on keeping things light at home.
Thanks to donations from the community, the District booked ice cream trucks at all pickup locations so students and their families could each pick out a cool treat.
Donations and volunteer support came from alumni, teachers, board members, U. City residents and residents from surrounding communities. Community partners, companies and local churches helped, too.
“A lot of the credit falls on the community who stepped up to love on these people and make sure they had good things to eat,” Spiller said. “University City as a community truly rallied to support its families and children during difficult times.”
In May, The University City Education Foundation launched a Summer Meal Appeal campaign to provide families needed extras with weekly care packages that contained produce, snacks and other items to supplement the basic meals. The foundation raised more than $60,000, mostly from the generosity of the local community, to help the families most struggling with the impact of COVID-19. Among the donations was a $10,000 grant from the COVID-19 Regional Response Fund. The St. Louis Community Foundation awarded that generous grant.
The Summer Meal Appeal further provided 150 of the District’s neediest families with essentials such as cleaning supplies, toiletries and other items.
As a Title 1 District with many families living near or below the poverty level, many University City children have long depended on the District to provide them with healthy breakfasts and lunches at school.
When COVID-19 closed school buildings and cafeterias, officials with the District realized immediately that these students would not get these necessary meals. Food insecurity was growing as businesses closed to ride out the stay-at-home orders.
“We simply could not let our families down. Students can’t learn, and families can’t function healthily if they are hungry or are making choices between paying for other essentials and purchasing food because they can’t afford both,” said Superintendent Sharonica Hardin-Bartley. “We knew very quickly that COVID-19 was both extremely stressful for our families and debilitating to many of them financially.”
Wyman Center, a leader in student empowerment with team members embedded in all of the District’s schools, helped design and implement the curbside pickup system.
Volunteers in face masks and rubber gloves gave away meals at four walk-up and drive-thru locations, where they displayed bright signs of encouragement reading “You’ve Got This” and “Just Breathe.” Some wore costumes to ensure the atmosphere was light and supportive.
Children saw familiar smiling faces, and parents received information about other community supports. School social workers and counselors checked in with families at the sites and scheduled appointments to connect in the future.
This fall, the District’s Grab & Go Meal Program will provide students with 15 meals per week. Pickup is Tuesdays (Note: changed to Wednesdays as of Nov. 2, 2020) from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Barbara C. Jordan, Jackson Park and Pershing Elementary schools and at Brittany Woods Middle School (Note: This site closed after March 17, 2021).
March 2021 Update: More than 735,000 critical meals have been distributed through this program since March 2020. For more information regarding participation and guidelines, please visit www.ucityschools.org/GrabAndGo.