During times of crisis, ordinary Americans come together in ways that remind us that the true strength and resilience of our nation resides in its communities. One of the best examples of this community spirit is how quickly cities and towns worked to protect the health and education of schoolchildren when schools were shut down.
Education administrators and teachers joined with local businesses and charitable groups on ways to maintain a sense of normalcy for students and their families.
In Decatur, Ala., Rodger Shabel read a local news article about the difficulties school systems faced in trying to transition to at-home schooling.
Shabel, who owns and operates Pepsi Cola Bottling of Decatur, called his friend Ronnie Dukes and said, “Ronnie, we need to help these people.” Dukes, a retired longtime co-worker of Shabel’s, agreed and set about calling education superintendents in North Alabama to see what they needed.
“Right off the bat, they talked about the internet situation and the need for help with materials and feeding these young people,” Dukes said. “It’s a community effort to help these schools. We’re part of this community.”
Pepsi Cola Bottling of Decatur donated $42,000 to help the rural schools in its area bolster its online technology and fund school supplies and school meals. Dukes says they expect to donate about $55,000 to support the school systems and students.
Susan Patterson, superintendent of Cullman City Schools, was thankful for the badly needed help from local businesses like Shabel’s.
"Through their donation we are able to bridge the equity gap for some of our students so they can continue learning during this time," she said.
New Hampshire schools faced similar shortfalls in technology when students had to undertake “distance learning.” Tech specialists at Coca-Cola Beverages Northeast got together to see how they could help out. They were aware that many families didn’t have the best technology at home, so the company donated 130 tablets to New Hampshire’s Bedford School District and the Boys & Girls Club of Manchester.
“Technology is absolutely critical for schools and kids so that they can continue learning and maintain contact with their teachers so that they can best achieve during these difficult times,” said Brian Curtis, director of information technology for Coke Northeast.
Schools have also had to ensure that the 30 million children who receive a substantial portion of their daily nutrition at school would continue to get the food they need.
Education departments faced a significant challenge to deliver school meals and found they needed additional resources and equipment to get thousands of meals to kids safely and efficiently every day.
In late March, GENYOUth launched the COVID-19 Emergency School Nutrition Fund to help schools maintain meal programs by offering them grants to purchase equipment and other items needed to deliver meals. A national nonprofit, GENYOUth’s partners include the American Beverage Foundation for a Healthy America which supports its mission of creating healthier schools and healthier children. Thanks to financial support from The Coca-Cola Company, Keurig Dr Pepper and PepsiCo, ABFHA partners with organizations, such as GENYOUth, to advance the physical health of American families and students nationwide.
Tulsa Public Schools used its GENYOUth grant to purchase 120 coolers to help with the transport of meals and milk. On average, the school system is serving 22,000 meals a day with 40 school sites and 170 bus stop locations.
“It’s so encouraging to see how everyone comes together for the better good,” said Heather Steele, community outreach coordinator with Sodexo K-12 Services of Tulsa Public Schools. “These coolers allow us to access as many kids as we can and help fuel their brain while they are learning at home.”
“We’re true believers that 1+1+1 is far greater than 3 – no one of us can do it alone,” said Alexis Glick, chief executive of GENYOUth, which has awarded $5 million to assist 6,000 schools. “Together, we can teach one another about how to be purpose driven, get results, drive impact and make a difference in the world.”
Ronnie Dukes agreed, and added that being neighborly is more important than ever when times are tough.
“Our simple philosophy is just try to be the best you can be and make a difference each and every day,” Dukes said. “If we can do this and work together today, it’s just going to make for a better tomorrow.”