Some food assistance programs to end, help is still available

TUSD meals

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - As COVID-19 hit many hard economically, the community stepped up to help provide food assistance. Now, some programs are coming to an end.

Grabbing a snack and meal to-go has become somewhat of a 2020 summer tradition for Logan Avery and his friend Marshall.

“We’ll do them like three days a week,” said Avery.

His dad, Mark, said he is an essential worker and said his wife has fibromyalgia. The Grab-N-Go meals and snacks they have been able to pick up from the Eckstrom-Columbus library has helped the family during the pandemic.

“Having the snacks and the produce and things like that …on a day that she doesn’t feel well, or the kids all have something to do, really helps out,” said Mark Avery.

Since April, libraries have passed out 23,000 snacks for kids, about 9,000 snack kits for adults and more than 3,200 boxes of produce. The food programs supplying this food were funded through partnerships with Amphi Unified School District, the Community Food Bank and the library’s own pockets.

“We never thought we were going to pass them all out, but we did,” said Rebecca Bommersbach, library technical assistant with Pima County Libraries.

The library programs are coming to an end Friday. Districts have had to re-route their lunch funding back normal lunch programs and the Community Food Bank needs to retrain volunteers on safety measures.

“People are really in need for that kind of assistance,” said Tima Farhat, who has been passing out the snacks and meal kits for months.

Pima County Libraries are looking to bring back their regular after-school snack program for kids toward the end of August, but when, where and how are up in the air. The Community Food Bank is planning on reopening school pantries.

“The library’s all about access. Access to information, access to books is normally what people think about, but we’re all about access to food now more than ever,” said Bommersbach.

Monday, TUSD is also ending its summer food service program and starting the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs required.

“They can only provide meals to enrolled district students. That’s the difference between the summer meal program and what we transition to starting Monday,” said Lindsay Aguilar, director of food services at TUSD.

TUSD’s Food Services Department will offer breakfast & lunch during remote learning with 67 new grab-n-go meal bus routes.

Meals offered on the bus routes during remote learning are free to enrolled students at the 60 CEP schools. For students enrolled at the 28 non-CEP schools, meals are free only if the student qualifies. TUSD said parents are able to pick up food for enrolled students and the student does not have to be present.

A reduction to access to food could mean more people rely on the food bank. Thursday, the food distribution at Kino Sports Complex opens again, and Community Food Bank is preparing for a larger crowd. TUSD said from the start of the school year in 2019, to the start of school in 2020, seven percent more TUSD families qualify for free or reduced lunches.

“Combined with the federal unemployment ending…we think there’s probably going to be higher numbers than what we usually see,” said Sio Castillo, chief development officer for Community Food Bank.

From March to April, compared to the same time in 2019, the Community Food Bank said it has seen a 40 percent increase in people using their services.

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