Fayetteville Public Schools (FPS) has provided over 108,000 meals and 1,899 boxes of food to families in Northwest Arkansas during the school closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, diverse community partnerships have been established to ensure that local children and families receive assistance and support throughout the pandemic.
“We take feeding children very seriously, and our top priority is serving the needs of our families, especially our most vulnerable families,” said Superintendent Dr. John L Colbert. “We feel that the meal plan we have established will continue to meet the needs of our families for the summer months to come. We will continue to modify our feeding program in response to community needs, necessary safety measures, and input from our patrons. I am extremely proud of our dedicated social workers, student services administrators, counselors, and child nutrition staff members who have developed the district’s customized approach to caring for families, enabling us to serve over 108,000 meals and provide over 1,800 boxes of food.”
With no lapse in service, the FPS Child Nutrition Department has offered free meals weekly to anyone aged 18 and younger since the beginning of the closure period. At the beginning of the school closure period, FPS implemented a bus delivery route for meal service. As the COVID-19 situation progressed, the decision was made to transition to a one-day meal pick-up procedure to better practice social distancing and to ensure the safety of families and district employees. Each child present receives 10 meals (5 breakfasts and 5 lunches).
During a normal school year, Fayetteville Public Schools typically daily serves 6,800 meals at 16 locations. All meals are prepared daily on each school campus, from scratch, using as many fresh and healthy farm-to-table ingredients as possible. When transitioning to a system of preparing and packaging up to 16,000 meals at two locations, the district developed and implemented new methods of storing, packaging, and transporting the food safely. On average, 10,000 meals have been provided to children each week. Fayetteville Public Schools recently announced that meal service will continue through the summer months on Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the same five locations: Asbell Elementary, Butterfield Trail Elementary, Happy Hollow Elementary, Owl Creek School and the FPS Food Truck at the Fayetteville Public Library.
The FPS Child Nutrition meal distribution program is a part of a sustainable model for providing food and assistance to families that includes the FPS Outback and multiple partners in the community.
The FPS Outback Program has been consistent in supporting district children and families throughout the pandemic. In a typical school year, the Outback provides support to 25-30 families in need. During the pandemic, this number has increased to over 100 families.
Through phone calls and home visits, FPS social workers have been in constant communication with families to establish plans for continuous resources, including food delivery if transportation is a challenge. Boxes of food consisting of dry goods, frozen protein, bread, bagels, cereal, fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy products, detergent, and hygiene supplies are routinely provided. This service has been offered weekly and will continue through the month of June on Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Partnerships with the Salvation Army and Genesis Church have been established to continue services in July.
The Fayetteville Public Education Foundation developed the COVID-19 Family Relief Fund and has generously supported the efforts of district social services to meet the needs of families during the pandemic.
Working collaboratively, the FPS Child Nutrition and Social Services Departments have provided a full-circle approach to reaching children and families. Services for families have been carefully coordinated with local agencies including the Salvation Army, LifeSource, HARK, Northwest Arkansas Food Bank, and Genesis Church. Additionally, the district has developed a pilot project with the Fayetteville Housing Authority to deliver meals weekly to children that reside in public housing. FPS staff members communicate weekly with these local agencies and more to avoid duplication of services and ensure that needs are met in an equitable and caring manner. District families who need assistance accessing meals and food through district programming should call (479) 444-3000.
"We have been so grateful to work alongside Fayetteville Public Schools over the past several months during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Sabrina Thiede, Agency Relations Coordinator for the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank. “Your commitment to serving the students and families in your district has been unmatched. Your simplified approach to food distribution through your Outback pantry and effective communication to your families has been top-notch and we applaud you for the work you have done, and the work we know you will continue to do. Our community is a better place because of your efforts!"