As agencies, schools, and businesses shut down, Connected Community Schools (CCS) continues to head up its boots-on-the-ground Community Response Team. With the news of schools closing hitting the public on March 13th, wheels started turning immediately to get a plan in place to face the challenges and ensure continued support for the students and families in our counties.
To address food insecurity in Rome, the word was put out that CCS would be hosting two food pantries, with a possibility for a third location, right in the elementary schools, and would operate Monday, Wednesday, and Friday 10:00-2:00, while schools were out. Beginning that Wednesday, families would be able to go every other week, in addition to getting daily grab-and-go hot lunches and breakfasts from the school district’s Food Service Program, which was set to begin Thursday.
The CCS crew, joined by the countless school and community members, worked tirelessly Monday and Tuesday coordinating the move set up of the pantry from Bellamy to Staley, and preparing the food bundles for families in both Staley and Gansevoort. Precautionary measures were in place to ensure the safety of both the team and the community – food packages would be placed one at a time outside the door where the family would then approach to pick it up and the process would repeat.
Wednesday came, and before 11:00, the Staley site was out of food and team members were running back and forth to Gansevoort to replenish their supply. By the end of the day, after only 4 hours, over 1000 families were served, amounting to over 12,000 pounds of food, completely wiping out both pantries. To give some perspective, our holiday initiative handed out a comparable amount of food after a full week of serving families.
In response, a new plan for food distribution was enacted: Gansevoort would be the sole pantry location. Friday ran at Gansevoort as originally shared, from 10:00-2:00 or until the food was gone, and new hours were posted for the following week as Tuesday and Thursday 12:00-2:00. When the news came on Friday the 20th that all staff was to work remotely with no exceptions, the team took it hard. After having been in the thick of it and seeing the need first hand, sitting at home just felt wrong. But thankfully, we recruited 30+ volunteers, and calls continue to come in with people asking how they can help or where they can send donations, and with their help, we are still operating as planned.
In Waterville, Dolgeville, and Town of Webb, similar plans have been orchestrated to get students breakfast and lunch – creative solutions have been devised including utilizing local fire departments and district bus routes to deliver food, and they, too, have been lucky enough to have a team of volunteers to assist as needed.
CCS utilizes LINK, a district referral system to identify students and families that are struggling, and we put our community expertise to work in connecting them with the services they need. Even with all 4 connected districts closed (Rome, Waterville, Dolgeville, and Town of Webb), LINK is still closely monitored.
With these closures, District phone lines are limited in Rome, as is probably the case for the other three districts. What we have done is provided a number for families to contact if they are in need of assistance, and we continue to encourage them to reach out on our Facebook page as well. LINK will remain up and running and we will continue to triage and address needs as they come in. It will run in a similar fashion with our phones, and in both cases, families will be assessed for needs with an acuity system: 1- General need, such as simple asks for information 2- Food insecurity or resources 3- Family situation, such as homelessness or other similar crises.
With the Rome Alliance for Education now closed, all donations are being directed to Gansevoort Elementary, where they can be dropped off Tuesdays and Thursdays between 10:00 and 1:00. Questions regarding donations can be directed to 315-292-3250.
Currently, we have food but have put out an ask for more – specifically those easy to make/prepare items like mac & cheese, pasta, cereals, etc. We are also in search of hygiene items – obviously toilet paper, but we also anticipate diapers being a big need as well as any of those other typical daily hygiene items.
We’re also accepting monetary donations – checks can be made out to Rome Alliance for Education and mailed to 509 N. James St. Rome, NY 13440, or donations can be made through Venmo- username is @connectedcommunityschools – and a little goes a long way! We can typically purchase food items for pennies on the dollar from our CNY Food Bank.