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July 3, 2018 > School food pantry meeting hunger needs

School food pantry meeting hunger needs

By Johnna M. Laird

Summertime and the living is far from easy for some families. Without school to occupy children on weekdays, working parents can be left scrambling to provide childcare. No school can also mean no food for some children who rely on free or reduced-priced meals throughout the school year.

To close the hunger gap ? and not just in summer ? Hayward Unified School District (HUSD) began partnering with Alameda County Community Food Bank to offer free food for families and individuals in need at a familiar site to families with school-age children: HUSD?s Parent Resource Center. Throughout the summer, the food bank will open twice monthly on Tuesdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

About 20 percent of all Alameda County residents rely upon food from the food bank. Two-thirds of those receiving food are children and seniors.

In mid-June, 120 families arrived at the first monthly opening to take home food from the Parent Resource Center?s pantry. Mostly moms with children, they packed bags with fresh produce: apples, oranges, pears, plums, tomatoes, onions, celery, kale, sweet potatoes, and cucumbers. While the distribution center offers food at no charge, there are limits on items that can be taken.

Often families arrive early and Randy Nakamura, who coordinates intervention and prevention services at HUSD?s Parent Resource Center, says he and volunteers attempt to open early, as quickly as they can once food delivery trucks arrive.

Concerned about limited access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables, Hayward area residents gave feedback to Alameda County Community Food Bank that led the nonprofit to launch the monthly food drop at the Parent Resource Center. Food distribution began during the 2015-2016 school year. With clear needs and community support, the food pantry was established January 2018, followed by an official grand opening in February at HUSD?s first Family Engagement Day (FED) focused on health with a resource fair. At the opening, several moms expressed appreciation for the pantry, which meant that they no longer had to choose between paying rent and bills and putting food on the table.

Fifty-one percent of Hayward Unified?s 21,881 students qualify for the free lunch/breakfast program and another 10 percent qualify for reduced prices.

Reports show 293 families received food from the HUSD pantry in January, followed by 395 in February, another 368 in March, and 276 in April.

While feeding families is generally not considered the purview of public schools, Dionicia Ramos Ledesma, Director of Public Information and Governmental Relations, says HUSD takes a community schools approach to education: ?Our goal is to take a holistic approach to serving the needs of students and families. By developing meaningful partnerships with community organizations, HUSD seeks to be more intentional and strategic in addressing inequities that exist in our community.?

Food banks commonly use a ?hub and spoke? model for food distribution, explains Fremont resident Anna Swardenski, an emergency services consultant for the last 20 years who has worked with Bay Area food banks. Alameda County Community Food Bank operates 50 partnerships with school districts and colleges, including California State University East Bay. The HUSD pantry marks the 10th pantry at a school site.

?We?ve partnered with schools as a key way to expand our distribution efforts and improve access to healthy food. Rather than a parent having to take off of work to get food, we?re providing access at school where they and their children are already present,? explains Norma Batongbacal, Communications and Marketing Manager for Alameda County Community Food Bank. Batongbacal says the food bank expects in 2018 to distribute the equivalent of 28 million meals through its 200 partner agencies, including 60 in South County.

Lucia and Griselda have children in the Hayward district and both have been accessing the pantry services since it opened in February. "Food is one of many expenses we have to budget for every month, so every little bit helps," said Lucia.

When asked if the pantry was more valuable as a resource in the summer, Griselda responded, "Having this resource is valuable at any time of the year; it's all the same. The help we get from the district's pantry is a helpful resource because any additional assistance makes a difference."

While HUSD?s pantry serves all community members, not just students and their families, Ledesma says the district recognizes that the pantry benefits numbers of HUSD parents trying to meet basic needs of their children and, in turn, the district. By ?providing healthy meals for our young learners, we help them to be better prepared to succeed academically,? says Ledesma.

HUSD Food Pantry
Tuesdays, Jul 17 & 31, Aug 7 & 21
3 p.m. ? 5 p.m. (summer schedule)
HUSD Parent Resource Center
24823 Soto Rd, Hayward
(510) 723-3857 ext. 0 or 34102

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