If I’ve learned one thing over these past several weeks it is that even “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry!” These past eight weeks have taught us a lot about being proactive, flexible, and logical in the ways we adjust programming to meet the current environment. We at GRACE have had to rethink everything we do, why we do it, and how we can modify processes in order to continue meeting our standards of excellence, stewardship, and service. I am proud of our team and the creative and ingenious ways they have stepped up to meet this unprecedented crisis.
As a community, we are now all being challenged to imagine what this new reality will look like. We are beginning to plan for the future, knowing that it is still very uncertain. I’d like to share with you how GRACE is planning specifically for the seasonal program, Feed Our Kids.
As you know, GRACE has decades of experience in making sure that children who are typically on Free & Reduced lunch program during the school year are offered a healthy lunch each day over the summer. We also maintain that the interaction with healthy adults and peers is significantly valuable for this vulnerable population as most of these children are not offered the same enrichment opportunities such as camps and licensed childcare programs. You may also know that this program is dependent on the generosity of hundreds of volunteers who not only interact with these kids each day but provide the lunches as well.
As we imagine what this will look like we are considering several factors, including what other programs and options are being made available to our community. We are anticipating that we may have a decrease in the number of people who are willing and able to volunteer and donate to this program. As more information becomes available each day, we will continue to monitor these factors and will, most likely, continue to adjust.
We have been told by GCISD officials that the Summer Enrichment Program and Summer School classes will most likely be done remotely, similar to the end of the school year. We have also been told that the district will continue to provide food pick-up locations with one week’s worth of food at their current rate. In addition, GRACE Food Pantry is available for all families who need additional food support.
However, as of today, I can tell you that Feed Our Kids will continue with some modifications.
Starting Monday, June 1st, GRACE will offer programing at these locations:
1. 610 Shady Brook Drive
2. Mustang Outreach Center
3. Courtyard Apartment Complex
4. 121 Church
5. 837 E Walnut Street
6. King Street Trailer Park (drop off)
Therefore, we will be asking our trusted volunteer groups to sign up for shifts and “sponsor” a site and a week during the 11 weeks of this program. However, some modifications will need to be made.
We are recommending the following:
· Lunches should be modified as a “grab-n-go” distribution if possible. Brown bags filled with a healthy meal is best, but any form of providing kids lunches that they are able to take back to their homes is the goal. Styrofoam containers, to-go boxes, etc. would all work.
· We are asking that groups consider modifying their menus to include single-serve products rather than buffet style.
· Each site will be provided a “Personal Protection Kit” that will include masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, spray disinfectant, paper towels, etc. Those kits will be refilled each week to make sure our volunteers can stay safe while they work. *We are currently attempting to secure enough PPE for these kits, but would be thrilled if we had some donors who would contribute to the cause!*
· Each site will have more tables and seating areas that can be spread out. The goal is that if children wish to stay in the park area to eat, they can do so in family groups, rather than multiple groups.
· Activities can still be offered but will need to be modified to discourage interaction of less than 6 feet. Games and activities need to discourage or eliminate personal contact (ie: no traditional “Tag”, no face painting, etc.) However, if we are creative, we can come up with other activities. Ideas may include sidewalk chalk, foot races, charade games, scavenger hunts, etc. I’m anxious to see how our volunteers can get creative!
· Volunteer Groups will need to be adjusted to only the number of people necessary to operate the distribution and activities. Where normally we can have dozens of volunteers, we need to be careful about any number over 10, less if possible.
· Because of the need for single servings, we understand that costs may be prohibitive. To that end, we are seeking donations and grants that can be used to supplement. That may mean we can offer single-serve milk or drinks, snack-sized chips, cookies, etc. We are also seeking the assistance of some restaurants that can provide kids meals such as Chick-fil-A and McDonalds at a reduced or bulk rate.
It is important to note that it is very possible (and highly likely) that things will continue to be modified throughout the summer. Communication will be critical, and I am 100% confident that Lori Stevens and her team will do their very best to keep you all apprised of these changes as quickly as possible. I know she will rely heavily on each of her volunteers to provide feedback and ideas as we move forward.
In summary, my message to our community is simple. GRACE will continue making the safety of these children, and our volunteers our top priority. Although we don’t know exactly what it will look like, Feed Our Kids is a valuable program and we will continue to meet this critical need. Your thoughts, prayers, and support are needed now – more than ever. We appreciate all of you and the dedication you have to service.
Shonda Schaefer, CEO