I am very proud of how our community has responded to the Coronavirus outbreak. It brings us challenge after challenge, yet our teams work to find solutions time and time again. Our Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department and Emergency Management unified command team has been exceptional – and the leadership coming out of the Emergency Operations Center has been rock solid.
One of the biggest challenges facing our community is feeding the children who normally have been fed up to two meals a day at school. When the schools were closed, children lost their access to those healthy meals – and the connection to the caring adults at their local schools. Many of these children come from families on the margin to begin with – with parents or caregivers most likely to have lost their job to our battle against the virus.
In response, our local schools stepped up – and the best part of my week was joining the team at Franklin Pierce School District on Tuesday.
My host for the day was the Security Chief Katie Gillespie – yes, she is the sister of our own DEM Deputy Director Amy Gillespie.
We started at 10:15 a.m. at the Franklin Pierce High School Kitchen. Laura Fulton and her team have totally switched from pizza and green beans served hot on a tray to a line of high school kids in the cafeteria. Now they design healthy meals that can get distributed in a brown bag – including both a breakfast and a lunch. She told me about the number of grains, fruits and vegetables they want in each meal. Yet, she also shared about their efforts to add variety to the meals too.
Tuesday included a burrito, breakfast bar, banana, baby carrots, sliced cucumbers, a fruit cup, a bag of Cheez-Its and two servings of milk – including my favorite: chocolate! The next day they were introducing cherry tomatoes. I was impressed by how the team embraced the changes in their world to continue to serve their students.
Next, we loaded the boxes of lunches and crates of milk onto school buses for delivery to the neighborhoods.
Our bus driver was Elisa, and she was assisted by Antinette They, too, were enthusiastic in their role in this mission. Instead of transporting kids, they had removed some seats to load rolling carts of food and strap them down for the ride. We had 105 bags on our bus for delivery to kids at a series of apartment buildings. The students living there attend Harvard Elementary, Ford Middle and Franklin Pierce High Schools.
We were met at the neighborhood by Harvard Principal Paul Elery, Vice Principal Katie Kehoe and School Resource Officer, Deputy Mike Meyers. FP Superintendent Lance Goodpastor also helped out.
From 11:00 to noon kids and parents came from the surrounding apartments to pick up the meals. Each came with a smile, and mostly an “air high 5” for Mr. Elery. Mr. Elery and Ms. Kehoe asked how about their online learning was going and whether they had connected with their teacher. Each child left with a healthy meal, as well as knowing the adults at their local school care about them.
I left with an assignment. Our communities needed more “hot spots” to support the online learning efforts, which I passed off to our Emergency Operations Center.
Seeing smiling kids in our community always makes my day, but when combined with adults rallying around the challenges of making sure some of the neediest in our community are both fed and educated – it makes my week!
That’s why I was especially happy to finish up the week at the Nourish Pierce County warehouse. Our community counts on food banks supplied by Nourish every day. And, with thousands of our residents facing new economic hardships, their work has never been more important.
Because most of the volunteers that pack and distribute food at Nourish are considered high-risk, due to their age, the Washington National Guard was deployed to help! I had the opportunity to thank Governor Inslee (in a stylish mask) for his support in sending the Guard to get the job done for our residents!
We are in our “new normal” until May 4th, so we need to continue to rise to the challenges and find ways to overcome them. Our community is counting on us.
Thanks for reading,