For the City of Portland's Safe Routes to School program, the spring months are usually spent teaching bike safety to Portland school children. This year, Portland schools closed in mid-March and moved to virtual classes in order to minimize exposure to COVID-19. With direct outreach and bike safety classes temporarily out of the question, the Safe Routes to School team came up with a new plan.
“It was a moment of reckoning,” said Shaina Hobbs, an outreach specialist with the Portland Bureau of Transportation's (PBOT) Safe Routes to School program. “In March, everything was developing so quickly. School was closed for the year. We were collectively sad.”
City staff and their partners at The Street Trust who normally teach kids how to ride bicycles, used their own bikes and outreach skills to deliver meals to hungry children instead.
Food delivery is an important resource for many families who otherwise may not have the ability to access food distribution sites when they are open or be able to wait in long lines. Having one person stop by the distribution site to collect food boxes and deliver them to families reduces the number of people waiting at food distribution sites and reduces traffic around pickup locations.
Between late April and this week, the Safe Routes to School team has made 550 deliveries. So far, this service has provided meals to 105 households, benefitting about 380 Portlanders -- including 220 children.
“The program began at a time when staff felt they didn’t have a purpose since schools were closed and felt pretty lost,” said Janis McDonald, the Safe Routes to School Coordinator. "Delivering meals gave us a sense of purpose. It’s a tangible action of helping community during this crisis.”
McDonald reached out to Multnomah County’s Schools Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN) Site Managers to see which schools needed help delivering food to families.
Street Trust Education Programs Director Jordan Bailey explained that “we knew that schools needed support, and we weren’t using our contract for bike safety, so we used our time to deliver food.”
PBOT has been delivering food in partnership with The Street Trust, the bureau’s longtime Safe Routes to School partner. Safe Routes to School works with five different community-based organizations, including the Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization (IRCO), that organize the SUN program. IRCO is responsible for operating five school food distribution sites. Normally, families would be able to visit in person to pick up food. With COVID-19 limiting in-person gatherings, IRCO staff pack boxes of food for families that are then picked up by members of the Safe Routes to School team.
“I would like to show my appreciation for the help that this service has been for the families,” said Joseph Allbright, the SUN site manager at Floyd Light Middle School. “In a time where so many things are out of order, I know my families have loved having the consistent help every Friday."
McDonald contacts the food distribution sites ahead of time and works out a time to pick up packages. Then, a member of the Safe Routes to School team will arrive to pick up the boxes and deliver them to families. Some members drop off food by bike and others by car. They also confirm with the family that they've received the delivered food before moving on to the next residence.
PBOT Safe Routes to School specialist Lale Santelices delivers food to families by bike twice a week. Distribution site staff have the food packaged and ready to be loaded onto her bike trailer. Then, over the course of four hours, Lale delivers the food to families.
“In this time, it’s important for us to be flexible,” Lale said. “This is how we can serve communities in this crisis. Access to resources like food is a transportation need.”
Food delivery is a way for Safe Routes to School to continue building relationships with communities, explained Janis. “We’re working with a lot of SUN site managers that we’ve never worked with. Typically, we’re asking for them to help us. Now, we’re delivering food and asking for nothing in return.”
“I know that a lot of people want to help others at this time,” said Safe Routes to School specialist Corrine Montana. “It’s nice to leave home and see others face-to-face. I’m thankful for this opportunity and look forward to it each week
The Safe Routes to School team is also helping Rose City Park School provide a hot meal for dinner once a week to families in need.
Culturally-relevant foods for Vietnamese families
Kim Kenyon, the SUN site manager for Rose City Park Elementary, worked with the Safe Routes to School team to facilitate food deliveries to families in the community. By delivering meals from restaurants, they are able to provide support to local restaurants as well as local families.
Three restaurants are currently providing meals: Hot Lips Pizza, Su Casa – a taco truck on 82nd Avenue that Kenyon has worked with before – and Koi Gardens. Koi Gardens is a Vietnamese restaurant owned by a Rose City Park family.
Rose City Park school has a Vietnamese language program as well as a strong Vietnamese community. Of the 30 families that the Safe Routes to School team currently delivers food for from Rose City Park, almost half are Vietnamese. Koi Gardens provides culturally-relevant food to these families. Kim worked with the restaurant owner to set a budget and create two meals that they alternate serving to the families each week.
The funding for restaurant deliveries came from SUN’s budget. In addition, the Rose City Park Parent Teacher Organization raised money for the program to continue through June.
Shaina Hobbs from the Safe Routes to School team delivers hot meals on Thursdays. The local restaurants work to keep takeout physically distanced; when Hobbs arrives, she calls the restaurant and they put the food in her car, including pizza bags to keep the food warm while it was being delivered. After two hours spent delivering food, the last pizza was still hot!
Bailey, of The Street Trust, delivered Koi Gardens meals to families. His route took him four hours by car, from Milwaukie to Cully and almost to Gresham.
“We had to get creative,” Hobbs said. Food delivery “is a great way for us to build relationships with families. As a bureau, it can feel like we only do outreach when we need something in return. It’s nice to engage with people in a way where we can do something tangible and see the smile on people’s faces.”
Source: Portland Bureau of Transportation