One by one, cars enter the parking lot of Harney Elementary. Drivers are greeted by Hilda Lail, the school’s Family-Community Resource Center (FCRC) coordinator. Wearing a face mask and gloves, Hilda and other staff members hand out food bags for families impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. Many families, even those who used to be able to afford groceries, now struggle to put enough food on the table. Despite school building closures in early March, the district’s 20 FCRC coordinators are doing everything they can to safely make sure children and families have access to basic needs and the latest information.
The Foundation for Vancouver Public Schools (VPS) provides funding to support the work of FCRC’s throughout the district. Working with many community partners, FCRC staff are able to leverage funds donated to the Foundation for VPS to quickly address the needs of students who are disproportionately impacted by school closures and the economic consequences of this outbreak. Knowing that learning can be a challenge when a student’s basic needs aren’t being met, coordinators provide food and housing assistance, connect families to social services, and create opportunities that enrich learning, alleviate stress, and promote family stability.
This crisis has created a greater stress for families who were already struggling with lack of resources. In the first month of school closures FCRCs distributed 2,500 pounds of food utilizing funds provided by the Foundation for VPS and with support from Share and Clark County Food Bank. The Foundation also provided 200 grocery gift cards for families in highest need. Using the Foundation’s Housing Stability Fund, coordinators were able to help 40 families avoid losing their housing through our partnership with Council for the Homeless.
Harney Elementary’s FCRC already supported many families facing obstacles due to lack of income with 57% qualifying for free or reduced-price meal assistance and 20 families experiencing homelessness during the current school year. The food pantries Hilda coordinated prior to the school’s closure regularly served around 200 people. Many activities are on hold until they can safely resume. While school was in session, Hilda utilized Foundation for VPS funding to organize an array of student enrichment and family engagement activities. While kids were having fun playing sports, dancing, or making art, parents could take a cooking class or an English class.
“We recognize how much families are going to be stretched in the months ahead,” said Nada Wheelock, Executive Director, Foundation for VPS. “We will continue to partner with FCRC staff, principals, and counselors to holistically address the current crisis and emerging longer-term barriers to learning”.
While teachers work to provide continuity of education for our students, the Foundation for VPS will continue to address the gaps not met by other community resources and partners. Together, we have a shared goal of helping every student in our district learn and thrive, no matter where the classroom.