SAUGUS — With the number of families facing food insecurity expected to rise in coming weeks, Healthy Students-Healthy Saugus, alongside Whitsons Food Service, is partnering with Saugus Public Schools to provide “Grab and Go” meals during COVID-19 school closures.
Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10 a.m. to noon, workers will stand outside Saugus High School to hand out bags containing pre-made lunches, breakfasts, and snacks to Saugus students who would otherwise qualify for free or reduced-price school meals.
After learning last week that the town’s public buildings would close through at least early April, HSHS board member Julie Ciccolini said the non-profit immediately went to work figuring out a game plan.
“When the schools closed, we all looked at each other and … came up with a plan (alongside) the superintendent and Whitsons to figure out, with all this uncertainty, what we can do to help these students who need some type of food service,” Ciccolini said.
Healthy Students-Healthy Saugus was founded in 2018 as a way to ensure children who qualify for free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch during the school day would have access to meals over the weekends.
Although not every student who qualifies participates in the program, during any given week, Ciccolini said HSHS distributes weekend bags to an average of 63 students.
According to Whitsons Food Service Director Jamie Osgood, however, that number may soon change as more and more businesses shutter operations due to the coronavirus pandemic, and thousands of workers nationwide are left without a steady income.
“Folks that are food-insecure, they’re really, really, really panicked because a lot of them don’t have a lot of work right now,” he said. “It’s already difficult enough, and now people are anticipating less work because restaurants are closing, a lot of businesses are shutting down.”
During Grab and Go’s’ first event Monday, Osgood said the group handed out around 65 bags of food — more than expected. He added that he hopes to see even more families taking advantage of the program over the next few weeks.
“We expect the number to increase as the word gets out. That’s what happened at some of the schools in Boston, and I know Everett doubled their number on the second day,” Osgood said. “We really want more and more kids to come.”
As for the meals themselves, HSHS relies on donations — food items and cash — to provide for students. Ciccolini and Osgood both said they’re thankful for the kindness of community members and local businesses, including Wheelabrator and GE, as donations have soared in recent weeks.
“We’re taking this as it’s coming because we don’t know how long it’s going to go on for,” Ciccolini said. “We hope to be able to sustain it with the donations.
“If we keep getting donations from the folks in the community … I think we can do this for quite a while.”
Donations can be made at givebutter.com/healthystudentshealthysaugus.
Checks can be mailed directly to Salem Five Bank, C/O Healthy Students-Healthy Saugus, 855-5 Broadway, Saugus, MA, 01906.
Elyse Carmosino can be reached at [email protected].