Rallying to feed families

Schools step up to make sure students have food during mandated school closure

Volunteers, including Godfrey-Lee school board President Eric Mockerman (grey jacket), hand out free breakfast and lunch sacks to students at Godfrey Elementary

While alarming news regarding the novel coronavirus continues to unfold nationwide, Kent County teachers, administrators, food service workers and community volunteers are coming together to make sure students and families continue to have plenty of food while their schools are closed.

At Wyoming Junior High, families drove up in their vehicles Monday, a few at a time, for bags of food including milk, cold lunch, breakfast and snack items. Parents and students often greeted educators they know well, as they received the bags of food through the car window.

“Don’t forget: Wednesday and Friday, same time, same place,” said Wyoming High history teacher John Doyle to one mom as he passed her the items.

Judy Nelson looked at the contents in one of her bags for her young grandchildren. “Apples, milk, peanut butter… We’ve got everything in here.”

Nelson takes care of her two grandchildren, she explained, and the food will help her serve them meals they normally eat at school. “They never lose their need for food,” she said. “All this is a blessing.”

Schools Offer Meals During Closure

Families are invited to pick up meals for any child ages 18 and under, as well as students with disabilities ages 18-26 with an active IEP (individualized education program). The Michigan Department of Education recently granted flexibility in the federal guidelines so schools are allowed to serve meals which families can simply come pick up.

Most districts are offering breakfast and lunch foods and many are packaging multiple meals to pick up. Some districts are also offering delivery or neighborhood drop-off, so families may want to visit their district’s website or social media for additional details. Ending dates vary, so families are encouraged to ask for that information at the school.

School districts, their staff and volunteers are stepping up to provide the blessing of good food to Kent County students, many of whom rely on schools for their daily meals. Districts countywide have set up distribution sites where students can pick up meals.

Related: Food Plans for Kent ISD School Districts

School News Network visited a few of those sites on Monday, when the meal distribution kicked into high gear.

The Early Childhood Center is one of three sites in Godfrey-Lee where families can pick up meals

Staff Volunteers Mobilize Quickly

Wyoming has sites planned to be open from noon to 1 p.m on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays all month at the junior high and West Elementary School. Families each receive two days of lunch items each day, per child.

Doyle said the distribution plan took shape in just two hours Saturday, with more than 100 staff members volunteering to work at distribution sites. (Volunteers are taking precautions to wear gloves and practice social distancing.)

‘It’s the whole concept of being kind and compassionate.’

— Wyoming history teacher John Doyle

Wyoming, a low-income district of more than 4,000 students, provides free breakfast and lunch to all students every day, and many children eat dinner at the after-school program. “It’s the whole concept of being kind and compassionate,” Doyle said.

Wyoming Assistant Food Service Director Michael Ritsema said he’s been busy communicating with vendors and state officials for direction, following all food guidelines and working hard to keep the school community fed.

“It was a little crazy coming in on Friday. There was a little bit of hecticness,” Ritsema said of the day following Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s decision to close schools statewide. “It is really hard to know how much food we have to prepare. We are just making as much as we can, and whatever we don’t use today we will use in the days to come.”

New Faith Temple Church of God in Christ parishioner Deneen Mason and co-pastor Rev. Deidric Tupper confer on a logistical question

Filling A Void

New Faith Temple Church of God in Christ is a place for Grand Rapids Public Schools students, their families and anyone in the community impacted by the COVID-19 school closings can pick up food while schools remain shuttered. All GRPS students also receive free meals at school.

Co-Pastor Rev. Deidric Tupper said the church understood immediately when schools were closed that it needed to step into the food void the closing would create for GRPS families. He said he was happy to partner with the district and the USDA to provide food to the community.

“As a husband, father, pastor and president of a nonprofit, I understand that families will be greatly impacted from school closures amid the coronavirus pandemic,” he said. “We understand the value of readily available healthy nutritional meals, so we’ve stepped up to serve our community.”

Ottawa Hills High School sophomore Jeremiah Maeweather was happy to have food for the week, as he’s taking on new responsibilities around the house with schools having been closed. He admitted everything thus far feels a bit surreal.

“We got lunches for the week, which will help a lot,” he said. “This is a good resource.”

Wyoming Junior High Assistant Principal Monte Cross brings food out for distribution

Doing ‘Whatever We Can’

In Godfrey-Lee Public Schools, the Food Services Department is making sure students can get healthy breakfasts and lunches Monday through Friday at three sites: Godfrey-Lee Early Childhood Center, Godfrey Elementary and Lee Middle and High School.

“We will do whatever we can to provide families meals during the next few weeks,” said Monica Collier, director of dining services. “In order to ensure we are healthy we all must have nutrition and that is exactly what our goal is to provide.”

Superintendent Kevin Polston said it’s critical during a time of crisis that the community can count on the school district to provide support.

“We put out a request for staff to assist with meal service during the closing, and within a matter of hours all slots were filled,” Polston said. “Our staff is always eager to support our students and families, and this is yet another way to demonstrate our role in serving students and families.”

Along with food, volunteers distributed books to children

Godfrey-Lee also will serve as a distribution point for Kids’ Food Basket,  which plans to continue providing its sack suppers to partner school districts during the mandatory school shutdown.

Back at Wyoming Junior High, mom Heather McMahon was thrilled to receive the food for her two children in elementary and junior high. Money for groceries is limited, she said, and the family recently moved into an apartment after living in a motel for more than two years.

“Wyoming has just been amazing for us,” she said. “This is truly, truly amazing for us.”

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2013. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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