Joint Paterson Public Schools-UWPC Meal Delivery Program
As the United Way of Passaic County (UWPC) continues to expand its partnership with Paterson Public Schools on confronting food insecurity, we are happy to announce the successful launch of a joint meal delivery pilot serving district families. Officially launched last month, the program has in its first three weeks distributed over 4000 meals. The idea for the program began with an observation from our Food Corps service member, Nima, that a good share of Paterson families live a mile or more from a meal distribution site (visualized here). This is a considerable distance for those without a car, some of whom may be carrying 50 lbs or more of meals for their children and have to walk 15-20 minutes each way. This reality for many families provided the motivation for this meal delivery program.
To make the program happen, UWPC reached out to a nation-wide network of transportation providers, ModivCare, which was provided an emergency authorization by Governor Murphy to deliver meals during the pandemic and is being paid by the state to do so. Through this collaboration with ModivCare UWPC able to find our local transportation provider to deliver meals to families enrolled in the program. Our next challenge was finding the families who would be interested in enrolling. Paterson Public Schools met that challenge by approaching local media and sending out mass communications to parents about the program. To enroll, parents would need to enter their address into a website created by UWPC, which would automatically determine whether they lived a mile or more from a distribution site and were therefore currently eligible for the program. Parents who did not live a mile or more were added to a waitlist. The next step was reaching out to families, training cafeteria staff, and finally, getting the meals delivered!
Through the hard work it took to get this all set up we learned a lot about the state of need in Paterson and the best strategies and practices of meeting that need. We learned, for example, that developing mass texting capabilities through a service such as Twilio was really important for communicating with parents. We learned that our delivery program, while ambitious, could only admit about one-tenth of the total number of families who applied. We also learned that distance is not the only barrier keeping families from meal distribution sites with several parents who voiced frustration that they could not get to the meal distribution sites because they were working or because they had a member of the family with special needs. While limited at the moment by staffing requirements and the current capacity of our transportation provider we hope to be able to expand this program and begin to address the other barriers that keeps Paterson families food insecure.
About the Grantee
United Way of Passaic County is an organization committed to mobilizing the caring power of the communities it serves to tackle chronic issues, such as hunger and financial illiteracy. It is also involved in helping public schools with their food procurement to ensure kids have access to food that is safe, nutritious, and locally sourced.