Schools provide so much more than education: good nutrition, childcare, access to technology, mental health services and more. This is what makes them central to any community. That’s also why local PTAs were well-positioned to address some of the biggest societal challenges that were caused or worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the support of National PTA and its corporate partners, over $1,385,000 in COVID-19 Relief Grants were awarded to hundreds of PTAs across the country. This enabled these PTAs to tackle key issue areas, including food insecurity, distance learning, technology access and social and emotional well-being in 2020 and 2021.
What started as collaborations among parents, faculty and administrators inevitably rippled outward, and other people and organizations became eager to lend a hand. All told, the National PTA COVID-19 Relief Fund directly impacted over 538,000 people nationwide. Here are just a few stories of transformative family and community engagement from our COVID-19 Relief Grant efforts.
Power in Partnerships
Even in a normal year, Winter Park High School (WPHS) PTSA in Florida would be focused on fighting food insecurity for students in need. The COVID-19 crisis escalated those needs—and the PTSA’s first instinct was to ask, “How can we help?”
Winter Park is near Orlando, one of the nation’s top tourist destinations. With the abrupt shutdown of theme parks, hotels and convention centers, many people suddenly found themselves with no income. At the same time, the WPHS PTSA lost its connection to its most vulnerable students when they were unable to come to campus.
The PTSA leaders quickly realized they needed to pool their resources to magnify their impact against food insecurity. So, they turned to Army of Angels (AOA), a local nonprofit started by a WPHS teacher and coach. AOA was already a well-oiled machine, and their partnership has since created an infrastructure capable of responding to the needs of their overwhelmed community.
Between March and the end of 2020, WPHS PTSA and other community volunteers worked side by side with AOA to pack and distribute over 2,000 food boxes and over 115,000 meals to about 1,500 families. The grant from National PTA and TikTok helped subsidize 200 of those food boxes.
Once the word got out and media publicity kicked in, more families reached out for help and to help. Students, parents and community volunteers helped purchase food from wholesale clubs, pack food boxes and deliver them weekly—all in the name of supporting their neighbors.
Fighting Isolation at Home
When schools went virtual in spring 2020, Hillcrest Elementary School PTA in California wanted to help students and families overcome the loneliness of being stuck at home. They also wanted to properly welcome new families to the 2020-2021 school year. With their COVID-19 Relief Grant from National PTA and TikTok, the Hillcrest PTA worked to address the community’s social and emotional needs, and keep students active and motivated.
This help came in the form of care packages, each containing hand sanitizer, a jump rope, a yoga mat and reusable masks (which students were encouraged to decorate). The PTA hosted weekly virtual events, from fitness classes to craft activities to holiday parties. Also popular were their socially distanced drive-by events, like a car-decorating contest.
The PTA made sure to adapt their programming for Hillcrest’s predominantly Asian and Hispanic populations, whose cultures often shy away from discussing mental health issues. The leaders wondered whether anyone would show up to the parent check-ins on Zoom—but they certainly did!
Before long, family members, alumni, teachers and other community members were stepping up to lead the various virtual classes. (The Zumba coach is actually the school librarian!) A reader’s theater club, karaoke club and game club emerged. In all, over 1,000 children, adults and staff benefitted from the grant.
What School Spirit REALLY Means
As Kiptopeke Elementary School’s principal says, “Once a Kipper, always a Kipper.” That school spirit applies not only to students and families but also to alumni, neighbors, local businesses and organizations—you name it. So, when this elementary school in Virginia needs something, they know they can count on their community to provide it.
Rural Northampton County was especially hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic. The area has only two grocery stores, two dollar stores and two pharmacies, so essentials were nearly impossible to come by in spring and summer 2020. Many families were living without, and they didn’t know how to ask for help.
With their COVID-19 Relief Grant from National PTA, Kiptopeke PTA sought to help families obtain the things they needed and provide a little fun for children going stir-crazy at home. The PTA cast a wide net with their outreach—and no one turned them down. Among the local groups who contributed donations and supplies: the Northampton County Education Foundation, a counseling center, local restaurants, a church, a 4-H agent and even Wegmans supermarket.
The resulting Wellness Packs provided 280 Kiptopeke families with home essentials such as hand soap, hand sanitizer, toilet paper and paper towels; handmade masks; CDC information on proper mask-wearing and handwashing (in English/ Spanish); a magnet with local emergency numbers; toys such as jump ropes, Rubik’s cubes and coloring books; and a laundry basket that served as the packaging.
PTA volunteers packed and distributed the kits to Kiptopeke families in August, hoping it would ease the stress at home.
The Road Ahead
These stories are just a small sample of the incredible ways that PTAs across the country brought light to their communities during the darkest moments of the pandemic. You can learn more about their efforts at PTA.org/HowWePTA.
This new school year brings new challenges and new opportunities for our association. Show us how you PTA by using #HowWePTA.