School’s Out, Lunch is On

School lunchWhen summer break begins, it can mean several weeks of hunger for children in East Palo Alto who depend on school lunches from September to June. This summer, however, the story is different: in a five-week community collaboration, Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital and the Ravenswood School District are making sure homeless and at-risk families get a healthy lunch five days a week.

“We’ve been seeing so much food insecurity over the last three years with the recession,” says Lisa Chamberlain, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Packard Children’s and Physician Lead for the hospital’s Pediatric Advocacy Program. “Last fall and winter it was getting so much worse. That’s when we decided to try the lunch program. We’ve never tried anything on this scale before.”

With patients from two extremes—some of the wealthiest in the state and some of the poorest—Packard Children’s is working to create a dialogue across the divide, and building relationships to beat hunger for children and their families.

Through the Ravenswood and Packard Children’s partnership, more than 500 meals a day are served to families who are classified as homeless—living in a shelter or doubled up with another family. In the first two weeks, volunteers served 5500 meals from Revolution Foods, a nonprofit that makes healthy, locally sourced meals for kids living in poverty. The focus isn’t just on feeding the kids, but on feeding them well.

The National School Lunch Program provides some funding for relief in the summer, but only for children. “I knew this program had to be for the whole family,” said Chamberlain. “So we had to raise our own money to ensure that we could do a program that served the whole family.”

Dr. Chamberlain works closely with Ruth Woods, Director of Student Services for the Ravenswood School District. “I do registration for the district,” said Woods, “so I know all the homeless families and the families who are in crisis.” Woods and Chamberlain started by reaching out to those families, and then broadening the program to include any local families with children who needed a meal.

“With this program, families get to eat together,” Woods said. “We started talking to families about taking the food home, sitting down with their kids and talking about their day. This provides communication, and really brings families together.”

Carla Johnson brought her son with her to pick up food at Cesar Chavez school, where families start lining up for food around noon. “I’ve never seen a program like this, as far as feeding the whole family,” said Carla. “It’s just a tremendous outreach.”

   

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