NORMAN — For the vast majority of Norman’s chronically hungry children, all that stands between them and the food they need is the awareness of those around them.
Administrators, teachers and staff in the Norman Public School district have spent many years developing partnerships within the community, resulting in an intricate network of resources and systematic efforts to help hungry students and families.
“We have excellent provisions within the district and our community has great mechanisms for kids in consistent need, but the biggest challenges are for those in sudden crisis, which is often the case with hungry students,” Superintendent Joe Siano said. “The truth is, it’s not easy to get into the system if you aren’t familiar with it. Those who don’t normally benefit from these resources don’t know where to find them.”
As a result, schools have become a crucial point of contact for families and aid. School counselors frequently serve as a family’s first liaison in arranging provisions through community resources, and some feeding programs operate out of the schools.
A prime example is the Backpack Program, made possible through a partnership with the Regional Food Bank, in which students who exhibit need are sent home with a package of non-perishable food items to ensure they do not go hungry when they aren’t at school.
“The food bank assembles the bags and selects the actual food items — there are nuts, fruit juices, peanut butter, beef jerky, and the bags themselves are a little different each week,” Jefferson Elementary Counselor Lisa Linke said.
“The food is selected with children in mind, but families likely share and we send home extra bags if we know a student has younger siblings at home.”
In addition to providing the food, school staff members like Jefferson’s Andrea Grady have perfected the system to be discreet and not single out students receiving aid from the rest of their peers.