Every Friday, families flock to St. Paul’s Community School of Excellence (CSE) for 7 days’ worth of COVID-19 emergency breakfasts and lunches. The charter school, which has 1,200 enrolled students of Hmong descent, last week distributed 2,000 weekly meal bundles to families in 5 hours. That was 800 more bundles than the prior week, when 1,200 meals were gone in 4 hours.
Ge Xiong, CSE’s director of operations, attributes the increased demand to the school’s proximity to multiple apartment complexes, providing better food than kids may get at their own school and greater food insecurity in this time.
“We’re definitely seeing an increase in food insecurities as the pandemic extends into the spring,” she said. “We noticed that more and more non-CSE families were coming by to pick up meals. Because community members helped us let others know we are an open site, we distributed meals (on April 10) in record time.” As an “open site,” CSE provides meals to any kids 18 years old or younger. The designation is reserved for schools in geographic areas of greatest need.
In addition to keeping hunger at bay, the meals help lessen kids’ anxiety about whether they’ll go hungry and the pandemic, in general, by connecting them to familiar and comfortable elements in their pre-pandemic life – their school and people from the school.
“For the school to go from 1,200 to 2,000 meals is shocking,” said Nancy Close, CEO and founder of CKC Good Food, CSE’s food service management company. “The Hmong community is huge and the culture so interconnected that they’re drawing families from everywhere.” Beginning next week, CKC will provide its charter school and nonprofit clients with about 26,300 USDA-compliant daily meals and snacks for distribution throughout the Twin Cities, often in areas of great need.
During COVID-19 school closures, the USDA and MDE have waived requirements for kids to eat meals together and for kids to be present when meals are dispersed. To minimize contact, USDA is allowing schools to distribute a week of meals at a time rather than requiring daily pick up.
Keeping employees and families safe is a high priority for both CSE and CKC Good Food. CKC makes use of school cafeterias to spread employees out by at least 6 feet when assembling meal bundles. CKC puts a week of dry or shelf-stable foods into clear bags and a week of refrigerated foods into separate clear bags.
On distribution day at CSE, food service staff wear masks and gloves, and are the only people allowed into the school building. Staff put one dry bag, one refrigerated bag and milk into a grocery bag for each kid. Parents drive up to the front of the school, tell staff how many kids they have, and the staff put the appropriate number of food bundles into the vehicle or trunk. Families are limited to 6 meal bundles per vehicle. Food service staff count meals distributed using a clicker and then submit the count for reimbursement from the USDA.
This finely tuned process is similar to the way other CKC charter schools are distributing meals. It makes it possible to provide more meals as the demand throughout our community continues to grow.
Our charter schools are working hard to make sure their students continue to receive meals and stay connected with their schools. We are not to be out done by public schools! Thank you for working so, so hard for our kids!