FOUNTAIN — One of the state's largest healthcare systems is helping to improve food access for thousands of students.
Kaiser Permanente awarded 17 school districts with $300,000 in grant support to help increase food distribution equity. The grants are a part of the organization's efforts to address food insecurity and improve the health of the communities it serves.
With the funding, schools can now purchase more equipment for safe food storage and preparation, increase transportation options for meal delivery in communities, and advance ongoing efforts to enroll more students and their families in federal food assistance programs.
Fountain-Fort Carson is among the recipients of the grants.
"The district is in a unique place, we call it a food desert. A large majority of our families are five miles from the nearest grocery store. There really isn't another option other than Safeway that is pretty far from the core of Fountain. For those who lack transportation, it is just a long way for them to get there," said Montina Romero, Deputy Superintendent of Fountain-Fort Carson.
To make it easier for families, District 8 created a clothing and food pantry inside of its new building.
"The district is really passionate about supporting our students who really need access to a variety of items. Not only is this a food desert, but there aren't clothing stores or places for them to go quickly within five miles of their home to get clothes. One of the district's missions is to make sure we have an all-inclusive whole child approach to support families," said Romero.
With the addition of the funds, the district says they'll be able to make an even bigger difference in the lives of their students.
"One of the things we've been struggling with is that we have a food pantry and we partner with Care and Share, but we wanted to have more fresh fruity, vegetables, and more of the pantry items. The district was in the process of building the AIM Education Center, and in that center, we created a new food pantry that would be able to house fresh products through refrigeration. After the partnership with Kaiser Permanente, we are able to put refrigerated options in some of our schools,"
District 8 will be using half of the grant to purchase the new equipment and the rest will be used to order bundles of fresh fruits and vegetables.
"Kaiser has been really understanding and supportive that its the fresh products that families are really needing and through this grant we'll be able to provide. For Fountain-Fort Carson School District, that understanding and willingness to listen to what matters most to families are what makes their partnership so attractive to us," said Romero.
“The link between total health and nutritious food is well documented, especially for young, developing minds. It’s simply unacceptable to have students without consistent access to healthy food,” said Mike Ramseier, regional president of Kaiser Permanente in Colorado. “We’re proud to provide this support to school districts along the Front Range, helping advance equitable distribution of food and resources for all students.”
"We worked with each district to listen to what would work best for them. Some of the strategies that we think will help support them are equipment for safe storage of food, building capacity for meal delivery, equipment to support meal preparation and participation. We are also looking at how we can help nutrition services staffing to link families and students to public food assistance," said Curtis Robbins, Community Health Program Manager at Kaiser Permanente.
Robbins says the organization heard creative and innovative ways that school districts are getting food to their families.
"During COVID, what school districts were finding is that places where they were providing food, families didn't have access to so they were looking at meal drop off places and backpack-type programs. Any of those creative strategies to get food to students and their families," said Robbins. "Another example would be some of the programs. There are summer and weekend food programs providing meals when students are out of school."
He says the funding is specific to this school year, and Kaiser Permanente will be following along with the district's progress on improving food access and what school districts learn from it.
"On a higher level, food insecurity and hunger is the main area of focus that we look at for schools and communities. Looking and learning from what we are doing now and seeing how we can support state-wide efforts and local community efforts," said Robbins.
Through June 2022, school districts can use the support district-wide or for individual schools within each district.
Funding will be used differently in each district. Included below are the Colorado school districts that received a portion of the support:
- Adams 14
- Cañon City — Fremont Re-1
- Cripple Creek-Victor Re-1
- Ellicott 22
- Colorado Springs District 11
- Fountain-Fort Carson 8
- Fremont Re-2
- Greeley-Evans 6
- Hanover 28
- Harrison 2
- Pueblo D60
- Sheridan 2
- Weld Re-1
- Weld Re-8
- Westminster Public Schools