Mason Child Nutrition provides food for struggling families

Shravani Page | Staff Writer

The COVID-19 pandemic has left some Mason families with the inability to access or afford food easily. Many organizations in town have stepped in to help.

Mason’s Child Nutrition Department has stepped in and provided grab-and-go meals for all Mason children under 18. The Child Nutrition Team and its supervisor Tamara Earl have been working hard to help provide meals for children during this pandemic. 

The goal of the Mason Child Nutrition Department is to help those students in need of basic necessities. Earl said that she and her staff are ready to help provide those essentials in a safe and secure way.

“We are wanting to feed them,” Earl said. “They’re welcome to come through any of our services. We will ask for student names or IDs, but we truly are here for anyone in the community under 18, that can benefit from a breakfast and lunch.”

Mason Child Nutrition set up curbside pickup at about five different locations in Mason. Earl said they chose locations easily accessible and started to see which areas were more popular. 

“Our first goal was to try to make ourselves accessible to families,” Earl said. “This would occur simultaneously with us designing rather quickly grab and go meals that would work well with this manner of service. We launched with this curbside service at Mason Intermediate which is rather a central location for the city and Mason.”

The district has partnered with many organizations such as Joshua’s place, St. Susanna, and the Mason Food Pantry in order to reach their main goal. They want families to have access to these basic necessities during this time.

“There’s just been an outpouring of food donations as well to our community groups,” Earl said. “So that’s why the district has partnered with these organizations. So you come to your curbside service to pick up our meals, you can also pick up food from some of these other community organizations.”

On top of organizations, different departments in Mason have also been coming together in order to help make these food drives and other events flow smoothly. One of the departments who have stepped in is Mason’s transportation department.

“We’ve had a great relationship with the transportation department,” said Earl. “Because we’ve never done anything like that and I saw such a great response from the bus drivers wanting to help us in support of the cause. That kind of willingness has just been impressive to me and speaks to who we are in Mason.”

For Earl, the hardest challenge for her through this has been putting her staff at risk and putting them in a vulnerable position. She is thankful for having such a great staff who are willing to work their hardest during this time.

“The hardest part for me though is at the same time feeling the weight of putting my staff at risk,” Earl said. “We’ve all collaborated on what we can do to make sure we’re as safe as we can be at the same time. I see that their desire to serve the community is so strong that I kind of have to hold them back a little bit. This is so that they don’t forget the social distancing and that sort of thing when they see kids in the cars coming up that they recognize from the building.”

Earl said this has been a major difficulty for her and her staff because they’ve never provided service in this fashion. On top of that, they’ve had to learn and adapt to a new set of federal regulations. One of the regulations was the implementation of a program called the Seamless Summer Option. This program makes it easier to provide free food to children during long breaks, vacations, and in this case, a pandemic. 

“[This pandemic] means that we have to begin implementing regulations under a different federal program,” Earl said. “This is called the Seamless Summer Option and was put in place in order to provide meals at community sites instead of in school.”

Economic status has begun to change throughout Mason and it has become harder for many families to afford essential items.

“We’re trying to make sure that families know that we understand economic status may be changing right now,” Earl said. “In terms of school meals, we are here to try to meet those needs.”

Earl believes that these food drives are making a major difference in the Mason community. But, she believes that Mason can make an even greater difference. She plans on promoting these drives more and making them more accessible for families in the future. 

“We see a lot of thankfulness in the families that we see,” Earl said. “Some of my staff have seen people become emotional when they’ve been given food and personal items. I’m putting calls out to the families in the school district and we’re trying to push it out through Facebook and Twitter, and the COVID site on Mason Ohio Schools. I’m still struggling to get the word out to people that we are here for them.”

Earl said that there are also ways for Mason families to help. She believes that every donation to the collection locations make a difference. She also encourages those who know others who don’t have access to certain materials, to direct them to her and her staff.

Photos contributed by Mason Child Nutrition Staff.