Community resources ensure Scottsdale children eat during time away from school

12,000 pounds of food were distributed on Oct. 4 to Scottsdale families in need. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

Bread, tomatoes, cabbage, a cardboard box of dry food from United Food Bank and a sweet treat were set to be distributed to 250 families on Wednesday, Oct. 4, in preparation for the five days off of school the Scottsdale Unified School District has next week.

For some children the school cafeteria is the only place they have regular access to food, and an extended break from school can be detrimental. To alleviate hundreds of children’s potential hunger pains, community members and resources have come together to find a solution.

SUSD has one school that operates as a Title I Targeted Assistance Program. A school may become a Targeted Program once it has 35 percent of the students at the school receiving free and reduced lunch.

The school district also has nine schools that operate as Title I SchoolWide Programs. A school with a Title I Schoolwide Program receives funds “to upgrade the entire educational program of a school that serves an eligible school attendance area in which not less than 40 percent of the children are from low-income families, or not less than 40 percent of the children enrolled in the school are from such families,” according to SUSD.org.

For the past three years, the Scottsdale Unified School District, with the city of Scottsdale and Vista del Camino Community Center have provided a food distribution for pre-screened Title I families who qualify for free and reduced lunches.

Community members distribute food on Oct. 4. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

On Wednesday, Oct. 4, community members gathered at a warehouse in the back of the McKellips Police Station, 7601 E. McKellips Road, to load food into countless cars for six hours.

Representatives from the school district, the city of Scottsdale and Vista del Camino were packing up boxes and loading them into cars as they pulled up to the warehouse.

SUSD community specialists at the distribution kept track of the families coming through, with a list of approved names. These district employees often become well-acquainted with the families as they work closely to help them through tough circumstances.

“As a community specialists — first of all we work very close to families,” explained SUSD Community Specialist, Mariela Duarte. “We also have resources for them and communicate with families in crisis.

We work together with the principals. They send me out when they have a crisis, and I call the parents and ask what kind of assist they need — sometimes people lose their houses, are homeless, need food, or have another issue.”

Ms. Duarte said she appreciates the local resource to help families who might otherwise go hungry.

“At least at school they have breakfast and lunch, but out of the school they maybe just have one meal or maybe not, so this is very important,” she said.

By pre-screening families and having paperwork that allows them to receive this food, the school district and community center can provide additional resources — such as the back to school event held annually at the Scottsdale Stadium. The Back to School program hosted each summer gives many of the same students access to school supplies, shoes, a health check-up and more, former Scottsdale Schools Governing Board member Denny Brown said.

“It’s really a big deal how this all carries over and its legs out into the community,” he said of the work Ms. Duarte and her colleagues do. “It’s these guys that really do the boots on the ground work — because young Jessica in Vista del Camino can’t do all of that stuff. These people are critical.”

Vista del Camino Recreation Coordinator Jessica Rapp said her team takes care of the logistical aspect of the distribution, and makes sure there’s enough manpower on hand.

“I think it’s a great program,” she said. “I think the fact that we’re able to feed families that are in need during breaks and get them food all the time — especially the kids — it’s so important that we meet that need.”

Northeast Valley News Editor Melissa Rosequist can be e-mailed at mrosequist@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/mrosequist_.

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