WESTFIELD – The Boys & Girls Club of Greater Westfield has been providing meals to children uninterrupted throughout the coronavirus pandemic and wil continue through at least Aug. 28.
Westfield Public Schools will also continue to offer lunch at Westfield Middle School and Abner Gibbs Elementary sSchool through Aug. 28.
When school buildings closed, the Club immediately began serving meals in conjunction with Westfield Public Schools. Between March 17 and June 28, 50,000 meals and snacks were provided and since the Club’s summer meal program started June 29, more than 23,000 meals have been served. Project Bread partnered with the Club to ensure the youth of the city are fed every day. There is no one-size-fits-all meals model during a public health crisis. In that context, Project Bread provides school districts with essential resources, expertise, grants and technical assistance.
“We know firsthand how important these meals are to so many families trying to stay healthy right now, so we are constantly optimizing –evaluating gaps and barriers and adapting as we go,” said Erin McAleer, president of Project Bread, in a press release. Some communities offer “drive-up meals” to families through car windows to reduce exposure, others use bus routes to drop meals close to students’ homes. The Boys & Girls Club uses both models.
Project Bread is the central hub, connecting people to available food resources. Requests for assistance are met with compassionate and personalized support by Project Bread’s FoodSource hotline. Counselors connect people to a wide range of food resources such as SNAP (formerly food stamps), food pantries, meal sites, and more.
“We’re looking at unprecedented demand, so scale and efficiency are essential,” McAleer explained. “We’re seeing communities, legislators, school districts, families, and government agencies come together in new ways. Collaboration and agility are paramount to effective crisis response and I think everyone involved understands how high the stakes are now,” said McAleer.
In Westfield, the Westfield Public Schools continued its lunch program for city students throughout the pandemic and when the Boys & Girls Club stepped up, students not only received lunch, but had more options for dinner and breakfast. In Massachusetts, 1 in 5 children are now experiencing food insecurity, nearly doubling pre-pandemic numbers. Project Bread, in partnership with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, is leveraging decades of experience with federal nutrition programs and school and summer meals in particular, to support community partners and school districts serving grab & go meals at more than 800 meal sites throughout the state.
“We are grateful to the Summer Food Service Program and Project Bread for supporting our efforts to ensure that children are receiving nourishing meals during the summer,” said Boys & Girls Club of Greater Westfield Chief Advancement Officer Bo Sullivan. “Meeting our youth and families’ basic needs, such as food, is our priority as we will continue this program throughout the summer, and beyond if schools remain closed.”
Club Director of Operations Kellie Brown said they are waiting for a decision regarding continuing the meal program beyond Aug. 28. Schools are set to open Sept. 15 and the Club is committed to continuing to feed youth.
“It’s been a relief for us to know kids who can’t utilize our program at the Club can still have their food needs met,” said Brown. “It’s an honor for us to do this.”
Brown said the meals have been well received by families and 450 meals are handed out daily across the city. She said the neighborhood delivery sites have been especially welcome by families unable to get to the Club. There are 13 meal sites offering pre-packaged bags, each containing a lunch for that day and a breakfast for the next day, serving meals “grab and go” style to youth and families. Employees and families all wear masks and maintain safe social distance. In Westfield, meals are offered at the following sites:
Westfield Middle School – 30 West Silver St. at 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Abner Gibbs Elementary School — 50 West Silver St. at 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Chapman Playground – 50 St. Paul St. at 1 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Colonial Pine Acres – 50 Southampton Road at 11:30 a.m. – noon
Edgewood Apartments – 134 Union St. at 11:30 a.m. – noon
Powdermill Village – 126 Union St. at 12:05 p.m. – 12:35 p.m.
Sadie Knox Playground – 50 Prospect St. 12:15 p.m. – 12:45 p.m.
Hubbard Street Playground – Hubbard Street at 12:50 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Delivery Route – corner of Orange and Sackett streets at 11:30 a.m. – 11:45 a.m.
Neighborhood Delivery Route – corner of Orange and Kellogg streets at 11:50 a.m. – 12:05 p.m.
Neighborhood Delivery Route – corner of Shepard and Sherman streets at 12:10 p.m. – 12:35 p.m.
Neighborhood Delivery Route – corner of Charles and West School streets at 12:35 p.m. – 12:50 p.m.
Neighborhood Delivery Route – corner of West School and Hampden streets at 12:55 p.m. – 1:10 p.m.
Neighborhood Delivery Route – corner of High and Butler streets at 1:15 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Any child 18 and under can receive a meal and no registration or ID is required. Additional meal sites across the state can be found at www.meals4kids.org/summer. There are currently more than 800 statewide locations for families to access meals.
Anyone wishing to contribute to the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Westfield should visit bgcwestfield.org. Brown said donations of any denomination are appreciated and utilized.