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National Heritage Academies Combats Food Insecurity with Meal Delivery Program

Kelsey Pardue  |  December 18, 2020
Did you know that in Michigan, 1,359,650 people are struggling with hunger, and 318,960 of them are children? COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on people everywhere and even more so on those already faced with food insecurities.

To meet this need, National Heritage Academies (NHA) implemented a program to ensure students maintain a healthy and nutritious diet, no matter the learning scenario or their life circumstances. NHA partnered with Preferred Meals, a third-party food vendor, to provide weekly meal deliveries to families. School meals consist of balanced nutrition, are easy to handle, and are served at home. Meals are delivered no matter how far away the family lives and ensures children have access to nutritious meals every week. This program not only benefits the children but also relieves parents of the stress that accompanies food insecurity. ​​​​​​​
 

Dan Kuk, food service specialist lead at NHA, explained that when schools were unexpectedly closed in March, Food and Nutrition Services went into scramble mode to ensure children, not only in our schools but those in the surrounding community would still have access to nutritious meals. Once school resumed this fall, Kuk’s team identified that meal distribution numbers were significantly lower than what they were used to seeing, whether students were learning remotely, hybrid, or full in-person. Being in Michigan, the weather can, and typically does, change quickly causing accessibility to be an issue for meal distribution. Kuk’s team identified this hurdle to work through possible solutions to ease that burden on NHA parents.
 
“This program is crucial for NHA as this is an opportunity to address hunger, the child’s most basic need. We know this pandemic has adversely impacted many of our scholars and their parents,” said Kuk. “Our figures indicated we were serving tens of thousands of meals fewer per day than we were a year ago. Our team identified this as a huge area of need and have taken great pleasure to address it with ‘outside the box’ thought mentalities.”
 
The program pilot kicked off the week of Dec. 7 with three East Michigan NHA schools and three West Michigan NHA schools. From Dec. 8 through Dec. 14, Preferred Meals delivered a total of 58,926 meals to students at six NHA schools, including Detroit Enterprise AcademyDetroit Merit Charter AcademyFlagship Charter AcademyRidge Park Charter AcademyRiver City Scholars Charter Academy, and Vista Charter Academy. The program will add six additional Michigan-based NHA schools, totaling 12 schools participating in the meal delivery program.
 
“The Preferred Meals delivery program is significant for our families and students because many of them are unable to make it to the school for meals,” said Emily Gagnon, principal at Detroit Enterprise Academy. “Food insecurity is something that we can control during the school year when our students are in person but have struggled with since being remote. This program offers our students meals, and they don’t have to leave their homes. This meal-delivery service ensures that our students have access to food without the barriers.”
 
To Kuk, operating this program exemplifies NHA’s commitment to the wellbeing of our scholars. “It continues to showcase NHA’s forward progress, understanding that while what has worked in the past serves as key foundational pieces, it is our evolution that continues to drive us as industry leaders,” he said.
 
Kristen Hekkema, principal at Vista Charter Academy, explained that many families don't have transportation or are working during the window they offered meal pick up at the school. “The delivery service provides a way for our students and their families to have food in the house without having to figure out how to go pick it up! Our students who have been fed are more alert and more able to focus and engage in learning, whether online or independently,” she said.
 
In the schools served, many parents have responded positively to the program and are appreciative.
 
Hector Ulloa, principal at Ridge Park Charter Academy, explained that this program is so important because it helps everyone involved. “It helps our students. It helps our parents. It helps us in our mission to do everything we can to educate our students. For some families it’s essential, for others it’s convenient, but it helps everyone,” he explained.
 
Moving forward, the goal is to have this service extended to all NHA schools that partner with Preferred Meals.