Serving during the Weekends: Major Changes to Paterson’s School Meal Distribution
Since March of this year, the Paterson school district has distributed nearly 2 million grab and go meals to families in need. Many parents have attested to the importance of this program during a time when schools remain closed, unemployment is at record high levels, and 1 in 6 households with children reported not having enough to eat. Despite the high need, data collected by the Paterson school district shows that it is struggling to reach all of the students it would normally serve during the school year.
The district is working to seek out new ways of distributing more meals to Paterson kids. One approach the district is now using to distribute more meals is to begin distributing for the weekends. Special permission to do this was provided under a waiver issued by the federal government in recognition of the urgency of the pandemic. From serving 5 days a week the district has now moved towards serving 7 days a week. This change came into effect November 30th. In the first two weeks of the implementation of this new 7-day serving week, there has been about a 20% increase in the number of meals distributed per week.
Continuing to provide and expanding the availability of fresh foods through programs such as the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which United Way of Passaic County has been working closely with the district on, is an important way to increase access to healthy food. With respect to improving accessibility, the school district may look at opening new distribution sites, something United Way has been helping them with by mapping the current sites and identifying areas that are underserved. Another promising option is exploring doing home meal deliveries.
The switch to the new 7 serving-day week is going to have a considerable impact on the number of meals Paterson school district distributes to families in need. We continue to look for new ways to reach more Paterson students with healthy food during the pandemic and beyond.
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.