Martha’s Vineyard schools have continued to provide food to students and families despite statewide closures.
School bus drivers who would normally be shuttling students to and from school every day during the week are putting their time into an effort that supports families who might be struggling with food insecurity for a number of reasons.
According to Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) Assistant Principal Barbara-jean Chauvin, food insecurity has always been prevalent on the Island, but especially now that families are isolating themselves and the food supply chain is growing more tenuous.
Once Gov. Charlie Baker declared that schools would be closing, Martha’s Vineyard school officials had to be quick on their feet and think of a way to fill the needs for families that might be homebound because of a lack of transportation or an ailing or immunocompromised family member.
So far, there are two programs that school bus drivers are involved in. One is the lunch delivery program, provided by the MVRHS, the Edgartown School, and the Up-Island School District. Chauvin said she has offered assistance to the Tisbury and Oak Bluffs schools, but they already have a system that is working well for them.
On Monday and Thursday, school bus drivers deliver lunches for the high school and the Edgartown School, whereas the West Tisbury and up-Island schools require delivery five days a week to meet their needs.
Chauvin said the schools up-Island have made their needs known, and since the number of requests for deliveries on that route has doubled since the initiative started, deliverers divided it in half, so that part of the week is dedicated to West Tisbury, and part of the week is dedicated to Aquinnah and Chilmark. For West Tisbury families alone, school buses are making 24 to 30 stops a day delivering food, Chauvin said.
“And that is just the lunch piece,” Chauvin said. “These deliveries have served many purposes over the past couple months.”
Apart from the essential need for consistent access to nutritious food, Chauvin said, the bus deliveries have filled other resource voids for students, and even staff.
Early on in the school closures, buses were delivering art supplies, textbooks and educational resources, and technology. In order to create equity for students in their Zoom coursework, schools needed to supply many students with Wi-Fi hotspots, Chromebooks, iPads, and other technology that make virtual learning possible. The school has also delivered scanners and printers to staff and faculty, so they can continue their work. In total, Chauvin said, 126 devices have been delivered to staff, students, and families.
“Some students just don’t have access to these things while they are at home. When they are at school, they have access to Wi-Fi and computers and these types of things, so they should have access when doing online learning as well,” Chauvin said.
Chauvin said students or families call in to their schools and make a certain request. It is then up to the school to get those resources out to households.
Bus drivers are also delivering bags of groceries from the Island Food Pantry directly to families who need the support.
Every Thursday, bus drivers pick up food from the pantry, and split up the groceries according to route. The food pantry bus deliveries alternate week by week; one week is dedicated to Oak Bluffs and high school families, and the other week is for Edgartown, Tisbury, and the up-Island schools.
Over those two weeks, around 35 families receive bags of groceries. In some cases, Chauvin said, families have reached out at the elementary level to request support.
“It’s one big support net. In some instances, the family might not have access to a vehicle, and the people are stuck at home, with no way to access the Food Pantry or even the grocery store,” Chauvin said. “It’s all having to do with isolation, and not having access to the same resources you might have in typical times.”
Chauvin said that when a child is in school, the family has direct access to many supports, but when school is no longer part of their everyday routine, it is especially important to get those resources out to the community.
The lunches and groceries provided to the public vary from day to day, depending on what food is available. Chauvin said the schools try to locally source as much food as possible from Island farms.
“The lunches might be soup one day and frittatas the next. For example, we have given out all the ingredients for fajitas, and just put all the items in different containers for the family to make themselves at home,” Chauvin said. “We try to get as much fresh produce like fruits and vegetables out as possible.”
Both the lunch program and the grocery delivery programs are meant to allow families to “stretch out” the food over several days, according to Chauvin. In order to do this, the school tries to vary the lunch and grocery options as much as possible, although folks can request specific food items.
Chauvin said the school delivers one bag of groceries per person, so if a family has five people, they get five bags.
“The response from the folks we deliver to has been incredible, they are so appreciative,” Chauvin said.
One thing that Chauvin stressed is the fact that schools don’t care which district a child resides in. “It doesn’t matter if a family has one child at the West Tisbury School and one child at the high school; the point is to provide the same level of support for all students and their families,” Chauvin said. “This is a coordinated regional effort.”
The schools will continue to deliver food until the last day of online classes, and then Island Grown Initiative (IGI) will pick up where they left off, with its summer lunch program. IGI will begin to provide food service out of the high school facility starting July 6.
“We are happy to continue supporting our students and their families in any way we can,” Chauvin said.