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‘A massive undertaking’

By Amy Bounds

Staff Writer

Cydnee Melville planned a move to Lafayette from Longmont and enrolled her two children at Alicia Sanchez Elementary before the coronavirus pandemic prompted shutdowns.

She moved into an apartment near the school less than two weeks ago, and her children, 9-year-old Caleb and 7-year-old Ella, started at a new school remotely.

A chef who left her job because she made too much to qualify for assistance but not enough to cover therapies for her son and help her mom pay for dialysis, she’s going back to school to study food history.

In the meantime, she said, she just trying to keep her family safe and fed — a challenge when she doesn’t drive and doesn’t own a car. Added to the stress is grief. She said her mom, who had planned to move in with them in Lafayette, died from COVID-19 complications over the weekend.

Tuesday, she shared the news about her mom with Fabiola Gomez, a community liaison from Alicia Sanchez Elementary who is delivering food and gift cards twice a week to families who can’t make it to Boulder Valley’s food distribution sites.

“I’m very thankful for what you’re doing,”

See VOLUNTEER, 2A

Fabiola Gomez, an early childhood education community liaison at Alicia Sanchez Elementary School in Lafayette, picks up food Thursday to be delivered to families who can’t make it to the pick-up sites. About 40 Boulder Valley School District staff members have volunteered to deliver food, gift cards and books to about 300 families in need.

Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer


she told Gomez. “Not everybody can drive. I’m relieved and thankful to be here in Lafayette.”

She said she was scared to move her children with in-person schools closed, but instead found support and community through the school.

“If you need it, you need it,” she said. “There are no questions from the district. With all the questions, you feel like you’re begging. I shouldn’t have to feel like that. It’s good to see respect and kindness.”

After in-person schools shuttered in mid-March, Boulder Valley Director of Equity and Partnerships Ari Gerzon-Kessler joined Food Services Operations Manager Stephen Menyhart and Impact on Education Executive Director Allison Billings to create a food delivery system for 300 to 400 district families.

Impact on Education contributed more than $30,000 in gift cards and $10,000 in books to be distributed, while Boulder Bookstore and A Book in Hand have also donated books. The deliveries started over spring break, Gerzon-Kessler said, and worked so well they’re continuing through the end of the school year.

“It’s been a massive undertaking to launch and coordinate,” Gerzon-Kessler said. “So many of my colleagues across the district are really going above and beyond. It’s been uplifting.”

Families who need deliveries were identified mainly with the help of community liaisons, teachers and other school staff members, while some had called in to the district’s helpline at 720-770-0102 to request assistance.

One family totaled its car and just had a baby. Another mom, who cleans at the University of Colorado Boulder, was rationing food. Of 31 families on one delivery list, only two haven’t lost jobs amid the coronavirus shutdowns.

About 40 Boulder Valley staff members, including teachers, principals and school community liaisons, volunteer to pick up bags of food at the food distribution sites around the district on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Tuesday at Sanchez, Gomez, gloved and masked, loaded the back of her Kia with bags of organic produce and pantry staples, gallons of milk and even big plastic bags of minestrone donated by Boulder Organics. She makes seven to 10 deliveries twice a week, depending on the families’ needs.

She delivered her food to families living in both apartments and mobile homes, first making sure someone was home to grab the food and then chatting from a distance with parents and students.

In one mobile home park, she encouraged a Sanchez student to look both ways as he rode his bike with his sister before checking with their mom, who was holding a baby on the porch. Five children live in another mobile home where she dropped off multiple bags of food.

She also stopped at a small cluster of apartments in downtown Lafayette, talking with the parents in Spanish as their fourth- and fifth-grade children played in a small inflatable pool on a narrow patch of grass beside the complex.

“It’s a way to let them know they’re not alone and we’re here,” Gomez said. “Isolation is hard. They can see a face that they know.”

Along with food, gift cards and books, she’s delivered backpacks with school supplies, printed materials for a family struggling with technology and even medicine.

“Everybody has my cell phone number,” she said. “I’m the direct link they have to get help. Whatever they need, we try to help.”

In Louisville, Monarch High Spanish teacher David Tencer is coordinating a team of four teachers to deliver food to about 30 area families.

He said he wanted to do more to help after volunteering to distribute food at Louisville Middle School and seeing the need firsthand.

“There was this really powerful moment,” he said. “The second person who drove up, a woman, was so grateful for the bags of food … she started bawling. She was a single mom with two businesses going under. It just broke my heart.”

Two of the families on his delivery list have seniors at Monarch High who want to be the first in their families to go to college, he said, and he’s helping them find scholarships so they can study to become a veterinarian and a nurse.

“It’s making these really cool, powerful interpersonal connections,” he said. “It’s not just your typical academic conversations. One family, as soon as the COVID-19 thing is done, they’re inviting me over for dinner. I’m so excited to go over to their house. I love doing this.”

Families at Justice High, a small charter school in Lafayette serving about 75 at-risk students, are spread around the region, from Brighton to Denver to Longmont, making it difficult for families to get to the lunch distribution sites.

Some students had difficult home lives before the pandemic, while many are either court-ordered to attend because of truancy issues or have been expelled from their home high schools. Some are pregnant or have children of their own.

“A lot of times, they’re just in survival mode,” said outreach coordinator Darryl Mullin. “Their home is us. They’re really bummed out there’s no school, and they have to stay where they are.”

He’s delivering meals, gift cards and even school supplies needed to augment online classes to about 25 families. He got a call this week at 8 p.m. from a student whose Chromebook stopped working and delivered another one that night so the student would have it for the morning.

“We’re dedicated to keeping them within the system,” he said. “This is a way of doing that. Food has always been a lure, even during regular school. A lot of people right now are worried about affording their next meal.”

Dawn Suitts, a counselor at Boulder’s Platt Middle School, joined the effort because she’s a “food oriented person” and saw the need when school was in session, stocking easy to cook items in the counseling office for hungry students.

During her food deliveries, she said, she found a family “living off ramen.”

“They were just out of everything,” she said.

She said the deliveries also give her a way to check in with some students and families, many of whom are now worried about making their May rent payments. Along with food, families are having a tough time buying items like diapers and laundry detergent, so she’s looking to get some of those items to add in.

“It’s important for us to make a concerted effort to reach out to all the families that we can,” she said. “If the kids are there, I don’t ask if they’re doing their work. I ask how it’s going and do you need anything. We can all do our part. This is just a small part of what I can do.”

Stephanie Jackman, principal at Lafayette Elementary School, said deliveries are going out to about 10 of the school’s families. Along with the community liaison and teachers checking in directly with families, she said, she invites families to ask for help through her messages to them.

“We want to make this as easy as possible, because nothing is easy right now in a pandemic,” she said. “It’s for everybody who needs it, no questions.”

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