How one school district is working to end childhood hunger

The past two years have been a crash course in crisis response. With unprecedented circumstances came a sweeping effort from our medical community, government institutions, and non-profit sector to keep families and businesses afloat. From this incredible response, one unexpected player emerged holding a particularly powerful role: our schools.

When schools first shut down in the spring of 2020, experts warned that students who relied on free breakfast and lunch could very quickly face hunger. Fortunately, the team at the Boulder Valley School District didn’t wait to see if that grim prediction would become reality. The very week after schools closed, the culinary team was back to work implementing the Community Food Distribution Program, which would become Boulder’s largest food distribution effort during the pandemic.

Stephen Menyhart, Registered Dietician and Director of the School Food Project, shared that the goal of the Community Food Distribution Program was to reach as many families as possible with the healthy and nutritious food they’ve come to expect from BVSD. “Typically, we’re providing more than half the nutrient intake for students each school day,” Stephen explained. “With supply chain struggles, labor shortages, and a host of other challenges, the part we’re most proud of is that through it all, we were able to maintain the essence of our program: providing made-from-scratch, nutritive meals for students.”

Pictured above: BVSD prepares for an emergency food distribution utilizing watermelons donated by Community Food Share.

Community Food Share partnered with the School Food Project throughout the pandemic, providing over 1 million pounds of groceries to help make the program possible. And due to our existing collaboration with the school district, we were able to quickly respond when the next crisis arose: the Marshall Fire.

Working with BVSD, our food bank provided direct support to more than 100 families impacted by the fire at a pop-up food pantry at Douglass Elementary, and donated 369 grocery gift cards to the district to distribute to its students. “We’re so grateful for the nimbleness of Community Food Share,” said Mary Rochelle, Programs, Grants & Communications at the School Food Project. “It allowed us to move quickly to help our students when they needed it the most.”

In addition to paving the way for better collaboration in times of crisis, our work with BVSD throughout the pandemic helped open the door to a new partnership with Crest View Elementary that is helping students by keeping them full and focused throughout the school year.

Supporting Students in the Classroom and Beyond

“Volunteering in the classroom, you see the impact of a child who can’t focus because they are hungry,” shared Kelly Herbert, mom and volunteer at Crest View Elementary. When Kelly realized her children’s classmates didn’t have enough to eat at home, she quickly began researching what she could do to make a difference.

Today, Kelly visits Community Food Share each week to load up her car with groceries and bring them back to Crest View’s on-campus pantry. From there, the groceries get packaged and sent home with roughly 50 students each Friday, and any extra food stays behind so that students from low-income households have the same access to snacks and birthday treats as their peers.

Hollene Davis, Crest View Elementary’s principal, said since Crest View began their weekend backpack program, she’s seen a difference in the students who take home groceries each week. “We have a fifth-grader who has been receiving groceries from us since the third grade,” Hollene said. “She used to always complain to her teachers about being hungry. Not anymore.”

This story was originally published in Community Food Share’s Spring 2022 Newsletter.

Kelly and her son pictured at Community Food Share’s warehouse. Kelly picks up food for Crest View’s pantry every week.