BOULDER - At Crest View Elementary approximately one out of every four students qualifies for the federal Free and Reduced cost lunch program. Kelly Herbert, a parent at the school, was stunned last year when she first heard this startling statistic.
“A lot of parents just don’t realize that there is a need in our community,” Herbert said.
“They were kind of shocked because they didn’t realize that it hit our population,” Crest View Principal Hollene Davis added.
She jumped into action, bringing in snacks for less fortunate students to munch on during the school day. While helpful, she soon realized that the students’ need was far greater. In talking to her child’s teacher, she learned that some children at Crest View were coming to school hungry.
“[My son’s teacher] said, ‘we are able to feed these kids throughout the week, which is wonderful, but I worry, are they getting a well-balanced meal over the weekend? Are they coming to school on Monday hungry?’” Herbert said. “There are families that struggle on a daily basis. I hate the idea that any of the children at Crest View are going hungry. They are at a disadvantage before they even walk into school every day.”
Herbert, a stay-at-home mom with a background in finance, pulled together other moms and began looking for solutions.
“They took it upon themselves,” Davis said. “They asked, ‘what can we do?’”
Weekend Bag Program provides sustenance to youngest learners
It wasn’t long before they realized that the Boulder Valley School District’s School Food Project, which serves more than 13,000 nutritious, high quality breakfasts, lunches and snacks every day, has a Weekend Bag Program, aimed at combating food insecurity, hunger, and poor nutrition.
“BVSD Food Services Director Chef Ann Cooper has done a great job with rolling out the food bag program,” Herbert said.
The program’s primary focus is on the district’s youngest students. Each week the School Food Project, with partners Community Food Share and the YMCA of Boulder Valley, provides reusable bags filled with shelf-stable whole, unprocessed, fresh food and locally harvested produce to preschool families and select other groups at 14 sites for use during times when schools are closed, such as weekends and holiday breaks. The program at Crest View and eight other Boulder-area schools is made possible by a grant from the City of Boulder’s Health Equity Fund, which distributes revenue from the “sugar-sweetened beverage tax” to organizations focusing on health and wellness.
“Childhood hunger not only affects student health, but also academic performance, concentration, behavior, absenteeism, and so much more. Plain and simple, hungry kids can’t learn as much, as fast, or as well. We have a unique opportunity to provide food to our BVSD families in a place that they’re already visiting every day: school,” explained Chef Ann Cooper.
Crest View parents work to expand, augment program to meet school’s wider needs
Crest View was able to partner with the School Food Project to expand the program at the school, to serve even more families.
Herbert and her team of Crest View parents also conducted surveys to better understand the specific needs of their families and realized that, in some cases, families needed additional support.
The parents hold semi-annual food drives and are partnering with Conscious Alliance to close any remaining gaps.
“Conscious Alliance has been an amazing partner for us, in terms of how much food we’ve gotten from them,” Herbert said. “Companies give to Conscious Alliance and then Conscious Alliance distributes that food. They have agreements with Boulder food manufactures to get their shortcoded inventory. That is inventory that is going to expire too quickly for them to send that inventory to a grocery store.”
She says that many of the products are from well known Boulder-area companies like Plum Organics, Justin’s and Love Grown. The additional products are carefully selected to ensure that they meet the same stringent nutrition standards set by the School Food Project.
Every Friday, parents gather at the school organizing the donations and preparing them for distribution. When the bags arrive from the School Food Project, Herbert and team set into action, adding additional foods to supplement the existing bag contents.
“People are so generous in our community,” Herbert said. “I’ve gotten a lot of support from parents. They’re willing to give food donations or give their time.”
“It is really going well,” Davis said. “We started with 25 families and now we’re getting recommendations from teachers of families that we may have missed. We are anticipating that we will get to 50 families that we are feeding on a weekly basis.”
“We want to get to a point where we can offer it to all of the families that want it,” Herbert added. “To us that would be a success.”
She believes that the effort is not only ensuring that students are better prepared to learn at school, but building a better, more inclusive community at Crest View, which will no doubt also benefit student achievement, knowing that outside of an effective teacher, it is the most important factor for student success.
“Parents will be more engaged at school, if they know that their school cares for them,” Herbert said.