When the COVID-19 pandemic forced school campus closures, Collier County Public Schools (CCPS) created what would quickly become a statewide model for an online Continuous Learning Plan, while at the same time attending to the physical needs of our CCPS Family. More than 31,000 of the District’s 48,000 students qualify for free or reduced lunch. First-year CCPS Nutrition Services Director Elizabeth Alfaro recognized the nutritional needs of our community’s children did not simply disappear when campuses closed for health precautions. Along with two of her employees, Administrative Supervisors Kandy Messenger and Mary Scattergood, the trio developed a well-organized plan in just two days to distribute food to students who might otherwise go without proper nutrition with campuses being closed.
“We found ourselves in a very unusual circumstance. It’s hard to prepare for something like this, but we had to do something,” stated Elizabeth Alfaro. The distribution of meals went out to CCPS students starting March 24th, and it has been going strong ever since. By April, the number of schools and mobile food sites had expanded to more than 50. Students may pick up two meals per visit and six meals on Friday in order to get them through the weekend.
The nutrition services manager at Lely High School is Jennifer Keller. Jennifer now runs the distribution site at Manatee Middle School, where she and her staff of eight people prep and package meals up for hundreds of students every day. “The kids are always so excited when they come, especially on Fridays because that’s when they’ll get their meals for the weekend as well, and those meals usually come with an extra treat or two,” Jennifer explained while working at Manatee Middle one morning in April.
In these hard times of losing jobs, families budgeting their money like never before, and halting what we once thought of as normal routines, the CCPS food distribution program has also given parents a great appreciation for what the District is doing. “It’s awesome that this program was put into place,” said Ruben, a father of two CCPS students. “My family and I really commend and appreciate the schools because it’s been really beneficial for us and many other families.”
The Spring of 2020 will forever live in the minds of our Collier County Public Schools students and families. When students and staff went on spring break the week of March 9, they were supposed to return to their respective schools on March 16. Little did they know they would not enter a traditional classroom for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year.
CCPS plans to continue food distribution services Monday through Friday, from 9 AM to 1 PM, until further notice. Thus far, CCPS staff members have prepared and distributed more than 581,000 meals and counting. Additional information, including the locations of school and mobile food sites, can be found on collierschools.com/COVID19. Alfaro and her colleagues certainly see what they are providing every day as a necessary assist to our community. “We’re in survival mode now, we have to be there for our students.”