Food for thought as schools nourish communities

Schools are reaching out to communities to provide practical assistance in times of need.

Image: Amanda Kelly and Veronica Kinchela from Thomas Acres Public School collect food hampers from Lomandra School.

Weekly deliveries of food hampers have helped teachers at Lomandra School stay in contact with their students with complex mental health needs during the pandemic shutdown

When the students moved to learning from home, the school was proactive in keeping in touch with its students to ensure they were coping with the new conditions.

Principal Leanne Newitt said teachers had used the food hamper deliveries to drop off and collect school work packages and check in on students and their families.

“Whole families are suffering because it is such an unprecedented event,” she said.

Ms Newitt said she was proud of how her students had responded during the COVID-19 crisis.

Our students are engaging with their work and we are running our awards program via our Facebook page, so we can still acknowledge the great work the kids are doing,” she said.

With the staged return to school, Ms Newitt said about 22 of the school’s 82 students from Year 5 to Year 12 had returned.

“We are really happy to have them back and reconnecting,” she said. “I would think most of our students will be back next week [because] parents are excited and students are excited.

“For our students being back in the classroom is the best outcome for them as they have the structure they need and the support they need.”

During regular times the school runs a community pantry and food hamper program for 14 schools, who each contribute around $4000 annually to support the staff and costs.

However, Ms Newitt said the COVID-19 crisis had supercharged demand with the combination of the food hampers and a community pantry supporting around 4500 people in the Macarthur region.

Before the pandemic each week the school provided 300 food hampers and up to 20 emergency hampers, which include dry goods, toiletries and clothes.

It was now averaging 727 food hampers and 56 emergency hampers a week, while traffic through the community pantry, where people can buy discounted food, had more than doubled to almost 400 people each week.

The food program is supported by Oz Harvest, Foodbank, Good360 Australia and numerous local suppliers and businesses.

Image: Briar Road Public School staff Michelle Thompson and Marcia Branes with food hamper items to add to their community pantry.

At Briar Road Public School the weekly hamper runs to families supplied from Lomandra School are now supplemented with a community pantry at the front of the school where families can stock up on long-life goods.

The community pantry is set up with social distancing measures in place and stocked with items like pasta, noodles and cans of food, with a simple message to “take what you need”.

Parents often collect supplies when they visit the school to drop off and collect student work packages.

Principal Tammy Anderson said most of her students lived in public housing in Airds, one of the lowest socioeconomic areas of NSW.

“We are already a disadvantaged community and COVID-19 has put extra pressure on but I’m super proud of how resilient our community is,” she said.

The hamper runs have significantly increased since COVID-19.

“Our families are very thankful but they are also very proud and we don’t always know if they are struggling until we reach out,” Ms Anderson said.

“I don’t think the wider community is aware of just how much schools, right across the state, have been giving back to their communities.”

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