Community Action Head Start Sets Up Food Distribution Centers

 By Tony Kiene








In March of this year, a week prior to Governor Walz issuing Minnesota’s original stay-at- home order, Community Action Partnership of Ramsey & Washington Counties closed its facilities to ensure the health and safety of its participants, volunteers, and employees in the wake of the emerging COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, Community Action immediately adopted innovative strategies, virtual tools, and other methods that enabled us to continue to serve and meet the critical needs of our clientele.

As part of our Head Start and Early Head Start programs, which collectively serve children from prenatal to age 5, these efforts have included arranging emergency childcare, interactive educational activities, and developmental services while communicating with hundreds of children and their families through social media, text message, email, and video software platforms such as Zoom and Google Hangouts. And, beginning that same time in March, in order to meet the nutritional needs of our Head Start children, Community Action set up food distribution sites at three of its Head Start Centers in St. Paul.

“The need has been overwhelming,” notes Angela Prokop, Nutrition Coordinator with Community Action Head Start/Early Head Start, “We are seeing anywhere between 275 to 350 of our families per week and expect this to increase significantly as the weather continues to warm up. We’ve also expanded this initiative to include the distribution of educational materials, essential household items, and other basic needs.” In addition, Community Action has shared more than one hundred extra meals with Wilder Child Development Center, one of our long-time agency partners.

Community Action Head Start/Early Head Start is currently collaborating with the North Saint Paul Food Shelf to help bridge any nutritional gaps in these households. We are also in the process of partnering with The Food Group, a Twin Cities-based nonprofit to provide meal boxes stocked with four weeks of food that take into account the cultural and dietary needs of diverse Head Start and Early Head Start families.

“As both a Head Start parent myself and President of the Head Start Policy Council, I can say that this service has been a blessing,” says Jessika Thomas, “Without it, hundreds of families would be struggling to put food on the table each day.”

The Community Action Head Start/Early Head Start food distribution centers currently operate every Tuesday from 11:00 am to 12:30 pm at University HS Center (450 Syndicate Street N), Battle Creek HS Center (2181 Suburban Avenue), and McDonough HS Center (1544 Timberlake Road), providing a total more than 3,000 meals per week.

About Community Action Head Start/Early Head Start – Community Action Head Start is a no-cost child and family development program for eligible families living in Ramsey County. Head Start has the highest Parent Aware rating and is committed to providing quality comprehensive services designed to prepare young children for success in school and in life.

Head Start participates in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)*: all preschool students ages 3 to 5 receive at least two meals in their classroom each day. Other services include oral and physical health, developmentally-appropriate curriculum, social-emotional learning, parent engagement, family fun events, social services, and support for children with special needs and disabilities. Our staff speak Karen, Spanish, Somali, Hmong, Oromo, and Amharic. Early Head Start’s family-driven philosophy empowers parents and care-givers to support and nurture their children. This home-based program for pregnant mothers and families with infants and toddlers up to age 3 involves weekly ninety-minute visits in your home as well as twice-monthly group events.

About Community Action Partnership of Ramsey & Washington Counties – For 56 years Community Action Partnership of Ramsey & Washington Counties has provided critical services to historically underserved populations including low-income households, communities of color, and new Americans from Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia. The mission of Community is to reduce the causes of poverty and its impacts on people’s lives. Established in 1964 as part of the Johnson Administration’s War on Poverty, Community Action has an annual budget of approximately $26 million and provides direct service to 20,000 low-income households (approximately 60,000 individuals) each year. Programs and services include Head Start, Early Head Start, Energy Assistance, Energy Conservation, SNAP application assistance, and a suite of Community Engagement offerings that include Car Ownership, Financial Literacy, Project Success, and Family Assets for Independence in Minnesota (FAIM), which helps low-income people build assets through purchasing a home, advancing their education or starting a small business. Additional agency initiatives are designed to increase civic engagement, develop community leaders, and foster new and innovative community-based partnerships.

Community Action Partnership of Ramsey & Washington Counties is an equal opportunity employer and provider.