Northwest Arkansas school districts feed families in need over winter break

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FAYETTEVILLE — Northwest Arkansas school districts are working to ensure children are fed during the holiday break.

“With covid, this year has been rough on a lot of families,” said Ariel Smith, Arkansas Arts Academy School District Food Service director. “We’ve had a lot of families that have lost wages or jobs, and so the need is just really elevated this year.”

Kacee Crigler, Rogers School District social worker, said having access to food is pivotal to student success.

“Our goal is to meet needs of students and their families so they can thrive in school,” she said. “Part of that is just that basic need of food.”

State and federal mandates are providing funding for meals during the pandemic, said Leslee Wright, Bentonville School District communications director.

The Bentonville district provided free meal pickups for families Friday, with the next handout being Jan. 5, said Ashley Mooney, operations support.

Meals are offered to those 18 or younger, regardless if they attend Bentonville schools, according to the district’s website. Five days of heat-and-eat breakfasts and lunches will be available for pickup at locations families select from the weekly sign-up form.

The district is serving an average of 10,800 per day, Mooney said.

About 24% of Bentonville’s student population qualify for free or reduced-price meals, Wright said.

Fayetteville is using the same meal program during the holiday break as it has been using throughout the pandemic, said Ally Mrachek, Child Nutrition director.

Anyone 18 or younger can benefit from the program, she said, even if they don’t attend a district school.

“We’ve had a great response to it, and we have our meal pack order forms out and are taking orders now for the spring semester,” Mrachek said.

The district is offering its five-day meal pack option that includes breakfast, lunch, milk, juice and all the fruit and vegetables students need over the winter break, she said.

Meals may be picked up Tuesday and Dec. 29 at Fayetteville High School on the south side of the building, Mrachek said. Families will choose between 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. or 4:30-6 p.m. pickup times when ordering meals online.

The district is feeding about 3,000 students per day during the school year, with about 41% of its students qualifying for free or reduced-price meals, she said.

Mrachek said she anticipates the need to increase during the holiday break, as some families have expressed how receiving the free meal packs will help them afford Christmas.

Rogers School District has been providing free breakfast and lunch to district students during the pandemic and will continue doing so through June 2021, said Ashley Siwiec, communications director. About 60% of the district’s students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, she said.

The district won’t be providing meals during the holiday break, she said, noting several schools have distributed food baskets to area families.

Social workers and counselors at Old Wire and Lowell elementary schools and Birch Kirksey Middle School made about 50 food baskets with frozen chicken and hams and nonperishable pasta, rice, vegetables and fruit, Crigler said.

About 50 donated food bags with gift cards have also been distributed, she said.

Items for the baskets and bags were donated by the Rogers police and fire departments, churches and through a food drive at Birch Kirksey that collected about 8,000 items, Crigler said.

Excess food is being used to restock the school’s Dignity Closet for families in need and the remainder donated to Samaritan Community Center, she said.

Arkansas Arts Academy School District’s two schools in Rogers serve about 600 free meals to students during the school year, and anticipates feeding about 100 students per day during winter break, Smith said. About 25% of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, she said.

“We are actually having meals passed out on all three Mondays of our break,” Smith said. “They receive seven lunches and seven breakfasts from us at the time of pickup.”

Meals may be picked up at the loading zone at each campus from 11 a.m. to noon, she said.

The Springdale School District will not provide meals over winter break except to the students on site at Helen Tyson Middle School, said Gena Smith, Child Nutrition director.

“We will return to regular schedule when school starts back on Jan. 4,” she said.

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Fayetteville public resource officer Kevin Carroll offers a Fayetteville Police Department Coloring Book to children March 31 at Owl Creek School in Fayetteville. Ten meal pick-up began with the school distributing five breakfasts and five lunches for any child age 18 and younger. Go to nwaonline.com/201220Daily/ and nwadg.com/photos for a photo gallery.
(File Photo/NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk)

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Laura Flamenco, cafeteria manager at the Tyson School of Innovation in Springdale, hands out sacked lunches April 3 for children in the district at Bayyari Elementary School in Springdale. The school is one of several sites were the district is distributing meals to students while the schools are closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Go to nwaonline.com/201220Daily/ for today’s photo gallery.
(File Photo/NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)

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Kevin Dickard (right), transportation supervisor for the Greenland School District, loads sacked lunches April 28 onto a district school bus with help from Tyler Underwood of the Greenland Police Department to deliver around 90 meals to students at their homes. Go to nwaonline.com/201220Daily/ for today’s photo gallery.
(File Photo/NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)

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Meeting needs

Sign-up information for free meals for families in need is available at:

Arkansas Arts Academy School District, https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1Zl7WJ1dot3zVxVOQ3sWe3u03SB9QS2ZZgRaxtIUhTgU/viewform?edit_requested=true

Bentonville School District, https://www.bentonvillek12.org/Page/7004

Fayetteville School District, http://fayettevillear.apptegy.us/o/fps/page/meal-service

Rogers School District, https://www.rogersschools.net/Page/2499

Springdale School District, https://sites.google.com/sdale.org/child-nutrition

Source: NWA Democrat-Gazette

Mary Jordan can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @NWAMaryJ.

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