Westside Elementary’s We Are One Family Fund is still accepting donations from the public to assist Westside families with COVID-19 related needs ranging from rent assistance to meals, according to three staffers connected with the school.
Principal Nikki Burke, Westside Community Schools Coordinator Stacy Darga and Allison Samb presented a report during the Sept. 28 Sun Prairie School Board meeting about the school’s effort to establish the fund and assist families with needs brought on by COVID-19.
The fund grew out of the early COVID-19 related closures of many community resources and the need to assist families immediately.
“We love our families and want to wrap around them,” Darga said as part of a Power Point presentation about the fund. “We believe our students are brilliant and capable when other needs are accounted for. We knew that if we could not take something off of our families’ plates and provide support for basic needs, it would be very challenging to support their children during distance learning.”
The fund began accepting gift cards and donations through a Pay Pal account as well as donations to a Westside Food Pantry that included food, paper towels, toilet paper, diapers and personal care items.
Needs were determined by engagement data, family requests and a caregiver assistance request form. Data was shared with the student services team, according to the Power Point.
The We Are One Family Fund received 46 financial contributions as well as gift cards from Westside staff and families, Prairie View SCO and Westside OPTS, other Sun Prairie Area School District (SPASD) schools’ staff and families, SPASD School Board members and district office staff; community members and Site Leadership Team Members, Community organizations and partners, local businesses and the Dane County Mask Makers.
Darga said she wrote grant applications and the fund received grants from the Allstate Foundation as well as an American Family Insurance community grant.
The team team worked with families and were able to:
• Help to meet basic needs (assistance with food, clothing, furniture, cleaning supplies, masks, baby supplies, and transportation)
• Assist families navigate community resources (assistance with rent, utilities)
• Help with stress management in the form of gift cards for shopping or restaurants and games/crafts
• Help families become familiar with the new world of distance learning
• Leverage community partnerships with the YMCA, Second Harvest FoodBank, Sun Prairie Neighborhood Navigators, Sunshine Place and many others to help meet these needs.
From this grew two new programs which continue today: Fill The Van event with Door Creek Church and a Westside Pop Up Mobile Food Pantry. “We called all of these Acts of Kindness,” Darga said.
Westside’s Fill The Van event with our partner, Door Creek Church, stocks our school food pantry every third Tuesday. Metro Market on Cottage Grove Road allows DCC to park its van there and shoppers fill it up as they leave.
The Pop Up Mobile Food Pantry along with partners YMCA, Heartland Church and Second Harvest Food Bank is held every Tuesday afternoon from 4 — 5 p.m. Westside started serving 40 families and are now up to 110 families each week.
Data compiled by Westside showed from mid-March to the start of the school year, Westside performed more than 250 Acts of Kindness for more than 100 Westside families and other families in the community. Some of these include:
• Being part of the YMCA community meal site program at The Element where more than 2,000 free lunches and breakfasts along with providing food, toiletries, book and activities to families
• More than 45 families were referred to Sunshine Place or Joining Forces for Families.
• More than 5,000 lbs. of food has been given out from our on-site pantry and mobile food pantry
• Helping 40 families with receiving furniture, clothing, technology support and educational activities
• Assisting 11 families with taxi vouchers and provided over 25 rides to families struggling with transportation.
“When COVID happened, my hours were reduced and while I filed for unemployment, it took months for me to receive my first payments and stimulus check,” a single mom of three SPASD students wrote about how the We Area One Family Fund helped her. “Westside helped our family of four make it through during this time. They helped me with getting some assistance for rent, food, toiletries and cleaning supplies and taxi vouchers so I could get to and from work as I don’t own a car. I don’t know what we would have done without Westside during this time.”
“We moved into a new apartment right when COVID happened. My kids and I didn’t have much furniture or supplies and everything was closed down,” wrote a single mom of four SPASD students. “I reached out to school to let them know we could use furniture, bedding and kitchen supplies. My kids and I were sleeping on the floor. They helped find donations of furniture, toys for my kids, kitchen supplies like dishes and bedding. Westside teachers and their family and friends even helped move the furniture in on a very hot Saturday as our apartment didn’t have air conditioning. The next day three fans were delivered to us to keep us cooler this summer. They also delivered food and toiletries several times. We truly feel blessed to be part of the Westside family.”
The new school year hasn’t reduced the demand from the fund.
The student services team continues to help and classroom teachers continually reach out to their families to identify any needs they may have. These needs are then forwarded to Westside’s student services team, which works to see how it can help them — including partnerships with community resources to assist families.
As of Friday, Sept. 25, Westside has performed 25 additional Acts of Kindness since the school year started.
Westside is continuing to explore grant opportunities, reaching out to local businesses and establishing new partnerships such as Heartland Church.
“We will continue to meet our families where they are, with no judgement, no preconceived thoughts or ideas, but instead to help meet a need they may have and/or connect them with a community resource who is able to help them meet that need,” the team wrote on the Power Point. “We love our students and families and want to wrap around them to provide them the support, love and high quality education that they need to be successful and the WAOF is just one example of how we as a community school do exactly that.”
Board members praised Westside’s efforts, with board governance officer Dave Hoekstra saying the staff is going above and beyond expectations to provide service for families during COVID-19.
Other schools, including C.H. Bird Elementary, are either interested in or establishing a food pantry as well. Sun Prairie School Board President Steve Schroeder said during the Sept. 14 board meeting that more pantries would be established at other district schools working with the Sun Prairie Emergency Food Pantry.