AURORA | Aurora Public Schools will distribute 14,000 pounds of fresh produce to families in need after receiving a grant from Partnership for a Healthier America.
It’s one part of a program that APS hopes will help families get sustainable access to long-term food.
After school went remote last spring, Kate Garvin, director of family advocacy and community engagement at APS, organized virtual home visits to about 3,500 families in the Action Zone to ask about how students were doing in online learning, student mental health and what families’ needs were during the pandemic. The Action Zone consists of five schools in north Aurora: Aurora Central High School, Aurora West College Preparatory Academy, Boston P-8 School, Crawford Elementary School and Paris Elementary School.
“We had to assume we no longer knew what was going on in the community and what our needs really were when we closed our doors,” Garvin said. “We wanted to make sure we were maintaining our trust and still being a hub of resources for our families outside of school.”
Food insecurity was a repeated concern, Garvin said. Families especially brought up a desire for produce, saying that most food distributed at pantries was shelf stable and they had little opportunity to get fresh food.
APS had been partnering with Children’s Hospital Colorado to serve families and during the pandemic had pivoted to food distribution, Garvin said. However, Garvin said APS wanted to work with the hospital to create a more long-term solution, and decided to establish “food clinics” that will open this spring.
The clinics will be at Crawford and Aurora Central and will provide food distribution, education about nutrition and health and staff members who will work with families to make sure they are signed up for all the benefits they are eligible for, such as food stamps.
“The food clinics will really be the hub where a family may be coming just for food, but we’ll work with the family on many different aspects of support and access to make sure they’re getting all the different benefits we know kids need to be healthy,” Garvin said.
APS also applied for and received the Fresh Food Fund grant through the Partnership for a Healthier America, which will provide fresh produce to APS for 15 weeks. Beginning in January the fund delivered 750 pounds of produce a week and in March ramped up to 1,000 pounds.
The Partnership for a Healthier America is a national non-profit organization that works to expand access to fresh food to children and families.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted gross disparities in access to healthy food for many Americans, particularly in low-income communities,” CEO Nancy E. Roman said in a news release. “Through the COVID-19 Fresh Food Fund, we have successfully fulfilled a critical short-term emergency need for food among thousands of high need households.”
The produce is packaged in boxes that are designed to last families for about a week, and contains both fruits and vegetables. Each box comes with recipes from Food Bridge, a Denver business incubator for chefs from minority and immigrant backgrounds. The recipes are provided with the district’s demographic data in mind, according to the release.
Ultimately, Garvin said APS hopes this is a first step in creating a long-term pathway to help families have better access to nutritious food.
“Our vision of the community schools work is to create a culture of health for northwestern Aurora,” Garvin said. “We know that kids that are healthy will learn better.”