By Cynthia A. Núñez, Social Worker, Lewiston Independent School District, Idaho
Like many of us, when schools closed in March 2020 due to COVID-19, my thoughts turned to our most vulnerable students and how closing school would impact them. I was wondering how could I meet the vast needs of our students under the restrictions brought about by the pandemic. The very first webinar “Listen, Learn, and Share” addressing COVID offered by SchoolHouse Connection helped me to define the greatest need of my families…and that need was food.
Our district did the “Grab N Go” meals Monday through Friday, which was great, but I also knew that my families had food needs on the weekends, too. Each week, starting on Monday and through Thursday, my workday was busy, gathering food items and assembling 100 food bags that were then delivered to families on Fridays.
After a couple of weeks, I wanted to do something more – something that would lift the spirits of my families during social distancing and quarantining; something that would meet a less visible, but equally real need. I also needed to lift my own spirit.
I came up with the idea of creating a “Mystery Bag” each week for each family, in addition to the weekend food bag for each child. In this “Mystery Bag,” I would include a recipe and the ingredients for a family meal or dessert. It would be a surprise each week.
I had so much fun planning each week’s “Mystery Bag.” I made theme bags: Breakfast for Dinner, Easter Weekend Dessert, Chinese Take-Out, Cinco de Mayo, and Mother’s Day are just a few examples. It was so much fun! Parents communicated with me that they, along with their kids, looked forward to the “Mystery Bag” each week. One parent wrote me saying, “The Mystery Bag is their favorite thing and they are so excited to see what the surprise is. We loved the Strawberry Jello Pie for Mother’s Day!” Another parent wrote, “The fried rice dinner was their favorite. They couldn’t wait to crack the eggs and make the rice. It is like a science experiment for them each week.”
It was a small and simple thing, but the weekly “Mystery Bag” turned into a bright spot during a challenging and dismal time. Trust was established, and relationships with families were developed and strengthened. Those relationships carried over into this school year. I’ve overheard school staff mention how much more engaged a certain parent is, or how parents are communicating better this year than they have in the past…and these are my McKinney-Vento families. They know we are here for them, and as a result, they are more engaged with their child’s school, and their child’s education. One of our fundamental human needs is to experience community and family. It should be no mystery, but sometimes it is the littlest things that have a lasting positive impact.