The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our community has been nothing short of devastating. It has severely crippled our local economy and was especially devastating to our summer businesses which many full-time residents rely on to carry them through the year. This had a trickle-down effect to families with children, who rely on summer employment for their livelihood and summer programs for their children’s meals.
Even during the good economic times, many local families struggled to put food on the table. This issue was critical before the COVID-19 crisis, and the pandemic escalated it as we faced job losses, shuttered schools and businesses. It is easy to take for granted normal daily routines of eating breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week. This ordinary routine is something that is very much wished for by many children across the Cape.
Cape Kid Meals started in 2014 with a vision to provide weekend food to children on Cape Cod who had a need. Many of these children participate in their school’s free and reduced meal program during the week, but over the weekends were at risk of having very little to eat. We partner with schools who identify the children, and we pack and deliver weekly to all the schools. We started by serving two schools in Dennis; we now have 27 schools and over 600 children across the Cape participating every weekend.
Prior to the pandemic, one in six children on Cape Cod were at risk of not having access to enough food, that has now changed to one in four. The need has never been greater to assist families with children during this unprecedented time. We had families reach out to us directly asking for support, many who never imagined that they would need this type of assistance. What has occurred during this time has been very difficult and yet it has also shined a light on how much our community cares for one another.
Within the first month we were overwhelmed by the assistance from key partners and community businesses and members. Whether it was assisting us with finding food options when the shelves were bare, or providing donations and grants, they all made it possible for us to not miss a beat and provide our food every weekend. This support also allowed us to be able to provide a multi-bag distribution for children in the outer Cape who needed extra assistance. That equaled an additional 1,000-plus bags of food, distributed in a two-week period. In addition, we saw our community step up in many ways to assist the children across the Cape:
- Restaurants who were able to remain open offered free and discounted meals. Some even switched their model to operate as a soup kitchen and create meals to go, for those in need.
- Schools created “grab and go” meal programs across the Cape so they could still provide the very vital breakfast and lunches to children who rely on them. To assist families without transportation many schools were able to use school buses to deliver their meals.
- A program which was conceived out of this crisis, The Cape Cod Family Table Collaborative, prepared and distributed healthy, freshly made meals weekly. Core partners in this endeavor, Jeni Wheeler, American Culinary Federation of Cape Cod, Cape Cod Culinary Institute and Guaranteed Fresh provided a way for families to have access to this key resource.
Our weekend backpack program worked with each of our partner schools to ensure that the bags would be available at all the meal distribution sites. We typically operate during the school year and end in June, this gives us time to prepare for the fall. However, we quickly realized right before summer started, that our program would need to operate straight through to support families. This summer, we distributed more than 30,000 pounds of food to children across the Cape. We anticipate the number of children in need to grow this fall as the economic side of this is still having an impact.
As we continue this year we will undoubtedly be faced with more challenges while we navigate through our current new norm. While much of the future right now is uncertain, one thing that is certain is the commitment of many to the children who rely on food support. Our community continues to step up in a big way to show just how much they care.
Tammy Leone is executive director of Cape Kid Meals. For more information, visit www.capekidmeals.org.