COVID-19 and the Head Start Community

Food and Nutrition Services

Providing Groceries in Times of Need

CommUnify, Lompoc, California

Last year, we had a family with COVID-19 that was unable to get food for their family. The mother shared with a program specialist that she was too embarrassed to ask for help, and other family members outside the home had also tested positive for COVID-19 and were unable to help. The program specialist assured her that we are here to help! With the approval of our program director, we were able to use COVID funds to provide the family with two weeks of groceries as they quarantined and recovered at home. Thankfully, everyone in the family is doing well, and the mother has thanked us for all our help.

Every Child Deserves a Healthy Meal

Baldwin Park Unified School District Early Childhood Education Program (BPUSD ECE), Baldwin Park, CA

The closures of our classrooms because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and families suffering from cut hours in their current employment or becoming unemployed, led to a food insecurity for many of our families. Meals that were typically distributed in the classroom to children were now being provided at one of our off campus offices to ensure families and children were fed. Our wonderful employees worked closely with families to also accommodate our students with food allergies and food restrictions.

Through the funds of American Rescue Plan (ARP), our agency was able to provide weekly grab n go meals to many of our enrolled Early Head Start and Head Start families. Meals were provided for the whole week that consisted of a daily breakfast, lunch, and snack along with a ½ gallon of milk per child. Our food vendor, Chefables, provided fresh, nutrient dense, innovative meals and food products custom tailor for school children. The program delivered a total of 33,345 meals from March 2020 to the summer of July 2021. Baldwin Park Unified School District’s Early Childhood Education program was focused on ensuring all families were given the opportunity to receive meals for the week.

The ARP funding provided many opportunities to continue to provide meals through the summer. We were able to purchase canopies, coolers, and ice packs to ensure all meals were kept cool and to assist in transitioning meal distribution into a drive thru pick-up system. Families were thankful each time they received a meal for their child and family. Children always left with smiles once they picked up their meals for the week. BPUSD is so grateful for the opportunity to continue to use ARP funding for the reopening of our classrooms for our new school year to cover costs and provide individualized meals to students in the classroom.

Getting Ready to Grow Fresh Produce

Head Start of Lane County, Springfield, OR

The morning began with rain. When the sun came out, spirits and shovels were lifted. The best garden soil available was heaped into containers lined with leaves to help with drainage. Staff added a sprinkle of lime to ensure a proper pH balance, and voila! The perfect home for a lettuce, radish, or carrot seed.

Next, staff put together farm fresh grocery bags, education packets, and garden kits for interested families. These were delivered by Head Start of Lane County bus drivers. It has been a coordinated effort to make this possible for families. The program will keep it going until they have exhausted their avenues to prepare for, respond to, and recover from COVID-19. 

Meals & Mingle

Tazewell-Woodford Head Start, East Peoria, IL

This program was looking for ways to provide a hands-on family activity even though parents and caregivers are not allowed in the building. They wanted something that helped families unplug from electronics. Tazewell-Woodford Head Start program decided on Meals & Mingle event and sent out fliers to all families. Each family that sent back their slip received a crockpot and liner, the recipe and all the ingredients (even the poultry), a jar of conversation starters, and a post-activity survey. The families received these items after they completed their March parent-teacher conference. Families were encouraged to send back their survey along with photos of their family cooking and eating together. Any family that returned the survey or provided photos received a crockpot recipe book of Head Start staff favorites.

Truck downloading potatoes.10,000 Pounds of Potatoes

Families In Partnership Early Head Start, Libby, MN

This program has been working with one of its funders, a C. Falls farmer, and a slew of volunteers to package and distribute 10,000 pounds of potatoes. The farm is working with local nonprofits to distribute potatoes so they don’t go to waste. The program is delivering them to local food banks in the area, senior citizen centers, and Libby and Troy Public Schools. Program staff and volunteers feel like they still have dirt in their ears from moving potatoes! Enrolled families will each get a bag of potatoes.

Eating Healthy and LocalStaff assembling food bags for delivery

Chicanos por la Causa (CPLC) Early Childhood Development, AZ

Healthy eating and good nutrition are one of the top priorities at CPLC's Migrant and Seasonal Head Start, Early Head Start, and child care partnership programs throughout Arizona.

Through its Farm to Home initiative, the grantee is seeing the impact of encouraging parents to perform a variety of gardening and nutrition activities at home to create a culture of self-care that reduces food insecurity and childhood obesity. With this approach, children, families, and staff gain access to healthy, local foods and educational opportunities such as basic gardening trainings and healthy cooking demonstrations by our center staff.

Children and families feel empowered to make informed food choices that will last through adulthood and future generations while strengthening the local economy and contributing to vibrant communities.

With Blue Cross Blue Shield support, CPLC continues to address ongoing COVID-19 challenges related to hunger and nutrition and deliver food boxes statewide to enrolled families in need. CPLC supports enrolled families with nutrition services as they face compounding challenges during this troubling pandemic time.

Helping Feed Families in Time of Need

North and South Joplin Head Start, Barton, Jasper, McDonald, and Newton counties, MI

“We are delivering to our families at their homes. We are delivering lunches in all four counties." — Amber Nichelson

Child receiving a grocery bag.Like so many people all across our nation, North Joplin and South Joplin Head Start programs are working harder than ever to help their families as the pandemic continues to make things very difficult for all of us. In particular, these programs are helping to ensure the young children and the families they work with throughout the year do not go hungry. Amber Nichelson, supervisor with South Joplin Head Start, gave a quick overview. “Stormy Miller (special services coordinator with Joplin Head Start), from our main office, contacted Rick Kenkel with Joplin Public Schools. They set it up to where we would be able to pick up meals and deliver to our families.”

“Between the North and South Joplin Head Starts, we are delivering 352 breakfasts and lunches each day.” According to Nichelson, “We pick up the meals at lunch time and deliver lunch and the next day’s breakfast together. On Friday, we deliver for Saturday and Sunday, so they are getting breakfasts and lunches all seven days.” Nichelson described the effort as being so pivotal because “during this time of hardship, we’ve had a lot of our families laid off or they cannot work without having child care. We also have families without any transportation to even go pick up meals from the public schools.”

“Our families have been very appreciative of us keeping in touch with them and delivering meals. Families have told us how very hard it has been for them homeschooling four, five, and six children, and it’s hard to even think about meals. This has also been a way that we get to see our children from the windows and wave at those smiling faces. It is a way our children know we are still here for them. What makes me so thrilled is the compassionate staff we have that is willing to do this. Even with our state being completely shut down, we are still delivering these meals. We appreciate so much hearing the parents thank us daily for all the help we are giving them by doing this.”

Ultimately, Nichelson said it is definitely not about any recognition, and more importantly, she said, “It really touches my heart to see all four of our buses going out to deliver these meals every day and helping our families. There is a lot of passion with doing this, and it makes me so proud to be a part of it. I really love what we do with helping all of these children and their families.Helping others when they really need it. That is what it is truly all about.

600 Meals a DayStaff downloading food products

Aroostook Community Action Program, Aroostook, ME

Through a combination of Head Start Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding, local school partnerships, and private funding, Aroostook Community Action Program distributed 600 to 700 meals a day using its transportation services and local pick-up sites.

Help for a Single Mother in Need

Rooftop of Virginia Community Action Program, Galax, VA

A single mother of three children could not work because she lacked day care in the area due to the pandemic. As a result, she struggled to make ends meet and provide for her family. The grantee, along with support from other agencies and CARES Act funding, helped the mother pay bills and acquire additional food supplies. The grantee reports that increased interactions with families has helped to strengthen its family engagement component. 

Offsetting Meal Costs

Child Development, Inc., Minersville, PA

Throughout the pandemic, costs have been high. The program is successfully using CARES Act funds to offset the difference in the cost of meals and reimbursement from the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).

Breakfast and Lunch Five Days a Week

Private Industry Council of Westmoreland and Fayette Counties, Greensburg, PA

This program provides breakfast and lunch to children five days a week. Meals (grab-n-go bags or frozen) are delivered to parents if transportation is not available. Staff members contact families several times a week to ensure they are well and identify any unmet needs. Staff deliver diapers, baby wipes, baby formula, cleaning supplies, masks, food, and other items requested by families. Often, supplies have to be purchased or picked up at local food banks for delivery. 

Partnering with a Local Market to Help Distribute FoodChild carrying a bag of groceries

Metropolitan Children and Youth, Inc. Renaissance, Detroit, MI

The market for Atlas Wholesale Foods began to dry up when Michigan issued its stay-at-home order, so the business began to look for other ways to remain viable and contribute to a community in deep need. As a result, Atlas applied for and received CARES Act funds for food distribution to low-income families with children. The partnership among Atlas, Wayne Metro, Renaissance Head Start, and Matrix allowed all of their families to become eligible for food distributions totaling $400 each from October to December 2020. All parents were invited to participate, and most enrolled. The program asked them to select food boxes from a predetermined selection up to their $400 allowance (two orders of $200 each). They were able to pick up their boxes at a location convenient to their home or receive them through home delivery. The food from local vendors was of high quality. Atlas has been an excellent partner, constantly evaluating the program and asking for feedback to make it better and more accessible. The program reports that families were overwhelmed with the quantity and quality of the food they have received. 

Nutritional Support and Food Care Packages for Families

Eastern Allegheny Council for Human Services Head Start (EACHS), Moorefield, WV

In collaboration with their local local education agencies and CARES Act funding, EACHS has been able to ensure families have not had to face food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic. The grantee continued to provide nutritional support, as well as other social services and educational resources, throughout the summer months. Delivery of food care packages were, and still are, available to families without transportation or who have concerns with leaving their home during the pandemic.

Grab-and-go Meals

Community Action Corporate of South Texas, Alice, TX

Surveys of families indicated a need for nutritious meals. In response, the program provided grab-and-go meals (breakfast, lunch, and snack) to ensure children’s nutritional needs were met.

Access to Program Food Bank

Total Community Action, Inc. (TCA), New Orleans, LA

TCA has been able to provide vital resources to families in need. For example, TCA family advocates working remotely were able to connect an Early Head Start parent who had been laid off because of the pandemic to the program’s food pantry and diaper bank. The interaction between the parent, the family advocates, and child’s teacher gave them an opportunity to connect with someone outside the home and discuss something other than COVID-19 news.

Hot Meal Delivery to Families in Need

Neighbors in Need of Services, Inc. (NINOS), Rio Hondo, TX

NINOS is using CARES Act funding to continue to meet Head Start Program Performance Standards and help staff, families, and children transition to the "new COVID normal" by providing virtual and in-person services. Once Cameron and Willacy Counties went into lockdown, NINOS immediately began delivering instructional packets and hot meals to families. Staff received the necessary professional development to prepare for virtual and in-person classrooms and implemented electronic systems to avoid in-person contact. As the program prepared to resume in-person services, personal protective equipment and supplies were distributed to the centers. NINOS also sent families a revised parent operational policy manual with new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requirements and a children’s book that addressed masks, social distancing, and hand-washing in school to prepare for the centers' reopening.

The program continued to provide essential services to the children and families remotely and through contact-free methods. Family service staff networked with each other to seek out as many community resources as possible to share with families. Program staff reached out to all families to ensure they were aware of resources such as the community food pick-up locations, unemployment applications, public assistance, and emergency services during the pandemic. NINOS staff advocated for families experiencing hardships due to lack of transportation and inability to participate in community assistance programs. For example, an elderly guardian of a child enrolled in the program was afraid of getting sick and did not want to go out. Since most community organizations required individuals to pick up food and goods, the guardian did not receive any services. NINOS staff contacted organizations to advocate for the family. The staff coordinated with the organizations and arranged for social service staff to pick up and deliver the boxes of food, produce, and household items to the family.

Additional Food Storage and Meals for Families

Tri-County Community Action, Inc., Center, TX

The program used CARES Act funds to purchase additional freezers and food-sealer machines to prepare food for remote learners. This activity helped meet a need for families experiencing food deficits in the counties served by the program. 

Sanitizing Kitchen SuppliesTeacher and child cleaning the table after lunch.

Head Start CFDP, Inc., Hastings, NE

This program used CARES Act funds to purchase Zono machines to sanitize everything from toys in the classrooms to carts in the kitchen that take food to the classrooms.

15,000 Meals

Neosho and Granby Head Start, Neosho and Granby, MO

During the first week, this meal program delivered 970 meals to children and families. Staff continued to deliver meals for the next eight weeks. During the third week, the program partnered with Opal Foods, which donated 230 dozen eggs to provide each family with 2 ½ dozen eggs. Opal Foods staff also connected with a local farm and helped distribute thousands of boxes of produce and milk to families in need during the next several months. In total, the program delivered 15,164 meals to families over nine weeks.

Nutrition Support Through Collaboration

Neighbor Impact Early Head Start (EHS), Prineville, OR

The grantee collaborated with the Oregon State University (OSU) Extension Service Nutrition Education Program in summer 2020 to provide fun and educational cooking opportunities for their home-based participants. They scheduled several weeks of socialization activities with OSU, which offered a cooking class individually designed for younger children via Zoom. They provided cooking items for families, such as measuring cups and aprons. The Early Head Start program purchased food, which home visitors delivered to all families to ensure they had the ingredients to make these delicious recipes. Both parents and children enjoyed cooking and learning about nutrition. This series gave families practical skills that promote healthy eating and physical activity.  

Families also learned about FoodHero.com, a bilingual (English-Spanish) website with healthy and yummy recipes, meal planning, shopping tips, and more. On the website are videos demonstrating how to prepare a recipe and free cookbooks for families. This fun family activity helps create healthy cooking and eating habits that support lifelong learning opportunities.

In addition, grantee support staff and bus drivers deliver meals to families weekly. Families receive all CACFP meal components that their child would have received while attending class. The grantee also uses these deliveries to send home items needed for Zoom-based classes, individualized activities, and support materials.

Additional Resources

Family Food Security
Many Head Start families are struggling with food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic. To meet the needs of school-aged children, the USDA is coordinating several efforts which may apply to siblings of Head Start children. Explore available resources.

Meals, Snacks, and Diapers for Children
Head Start and Early Head Start programs may provide meals, snacks, and diapers to enrolled children and families whether services are provided in person or virtually. Find more about CACFP flexibilities and appropriate use of program funds.