COVID-19 had a dramatic impact on schools, families, and communities because of school and business closures and stay-at-home orders. For Child First families, the hub of resources that schools represent were closed, critical resources like food could not be delivered in the same way, and opportunities like academic support and enrichment and family engagement were no longer possible in person. Within two weeks after the pandemic began, the Child First team of community school coordinators and out-of-school time staff moved into action, first by listening to families and teachers and then by responding to what was heard.
A rapid needs assessment determined that 59% of respondents needed food and 44% indicated a need for hygiene and personal care items. In response, Child First immediately shifted to share information regarding existing community resources daily and provide direct assistance with food and hygiene items in the form of a grocery store gift card. During this period, Child First distributed $12,200 in grocery and hygiene assistance to 826 individuals in 179 households. 21% of the families that received financial assistance indicated they did not already participate in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The Child First family support coordinator made individual phone calls to alert these families of universal eligibility regardless of income and assist anyone who needed hands-on support in submitting an application.
After ensuring the families had what they needed to meet their basic needs during the pandemic, the teams designed opportunities for children and their adult caregivers to remain connected and engaged. Notably, by mid-April, Child First launched a virtual out-of-school time program featuring enrichment partners including The Carroll School of Dance, Empowering Minds Resource Center, The Movement Team, and Strength and Vitality Wellness Center. Certified teachers implemented a virtual tutoring program for students as a complement to academic instruction occurring during the school day. These offerings were extended to all students in Child First partner schools, including those who were not previously enrolled in Child First after-school programs.
Finally, Child First hosted two virtual family engagement events. In May, these offerings kicked off with a family Zumba night to get families’ bodies moving after nearly three months under stay-at-home orders. The second family engagement night was a cooking event hosted by The Movement Team. Our partners at Shop Rite even provided the ingredients required to prepare the meal for the first 25 families to register! From survey data, 100% of the families said they would make the dish again for their family and it was a good use of their time. Parents called and emailed team members about how great it was and asked when we could do it again.