On the first day of the Community Action Network’s summer camp at Mitchell Elementary last summer, a young camper asked to take half of her sandwich home for her mom.
“We knew from the very first day that food was an issue,” said CAN Executive Director Joan Doughty.
Doughty said it makes a huge difference when schools partner with social service agencies to make sure children’s basic needs are met.
“If they’re hungry, it’s really hard to concentrate on school,” she said. “If they don’t have boots, they can’t go outside. Those kinds of things.”
CAN secured funding for an after-school program that began last fall at Mitchell, where about 75 percent of the students are eligible for free and reduced lunch.
Then Doughty approached Food Gatherers about a monthly free food distribution there.
With the support of Mitchell’s School Improvement Team, the school’s first Free Food Distribution and Resource Fair was held recently to give families a place to pick up free healthy food while they learn about local resources.
CAN operates three food distributions in the Bryant Community Center, and also recently launched an after-school program at Bryant Elementary. In partnership with Bryant Principal Roberta Heyward, CAN is assessing the needs of the Bryant Elementary families. As a first step, Bryant families will be invited to attend the food distributions at the Bryant Community Center.
Mitchell wants to make sure it is bridging academics with non-academics to support the families the best they can, said Mitchell’s interim assistant principal Matt Hilton.
“This is an event that’s come together over time,” said Hilton. “We’ve heard from families that this is something they needed and they wanted, and we wanted to make sure that we were meeting the needs of our community beyond what’s happening academically in our classroom.”
Vegetarians Mahendra and Madhuree Sharma and their son Tarun, 8, filled several boxes with produce.
“I really really really appreciate this program,” said Mehendra.
“It’s great,” said his wife. “I hope it’s more than one month. Every week or every two weeks would be much better.”
In fact, the goal is to offer the free food distribution every month at Mitchell. The next one will be on Saturday, March 7 from 9:30 to 11 a.m.
Heather Sweet has sons at Mitchell and at Ann Arbor Preschool & Family Center, which also offers Free Food Distribution.
“It’s nice that they have Food Gatherers over here, too,” she said.