The backseat and trunk of Serena Casale’s SUV are packed with plastic bags filled with packaged meat, milk, eggs, cereal, fruit cups, noodles, juice and other food items for several students at Mark Twain Elementary.
Casale, a school counselor, has often visited students at home since the start of the pandemic, dropping off what families struggle to pick up: Chromebooks, class assignments, school supplies or — as was the case last Friday — food.
“It makes it easier on families,” she said. “We do all kinds of things while we’re here. It’s like, ‘OK teachers, we’re going to Abbey Lane (Apartments), what do you need us to do?’ And then they’ll all bring us packets and different things so it’s kind of like you hit two birds with one stone.”
Across the district, teachers, aides, counselors, social workers, principals, drivers and food service staff have teamed up to meet the needs of families during the pandemic, delivering essential items at their doorsteps every day.
Counselors and teachers have stopped by the Saturday meal picks-ups to collect food and deliver to students whose parents can’t make it. Others deliver food from Westerville Area Resource Ministry (WARM) or Westerville Christian Church (WCC) to students during the week.
Staff members have always stepped up to go the extra mile when it comes to these efforts, said Tami Santa, coordinator, Student Well Being and Mental Health. But their work has multiplied in response to the increased need.
“It is a reflection of all of the good humans who cross all job descriptions,” she said. “We have a special special group in Westerville.”
At Mark Twain, Casale tries to visit students each week, especially those working remotely. She often brings meals, whether from school, Westerville Area Resource Ministry, or Westerville Christian Church.
“I have hungry little guys,” she said. “I know they need the food.”
Last week, she delivered food to three families in Abbey Lanes Apartments, where a majority of Mark Twain’s Somali families and families of other English Learners reside.
As she knocked on the door of one family’s home, she called out: “Mark Twain. It’s Mrs. Casale!”
One of her students opened the door, flanked by his younger sister — also Mark Twain student — and their mother. All were excited to see a familiar face.
“Hi, I have food for your guys,” she said, dropping off a bag of food at their doorstep.
She told them she had more groceries in her car and invited the two siblings to help her bring the remaining bags. They quickly put on their shoes and jackets and joined Casale outside.
“I miss you guys,” she said as they headed to her car.
“I miss you too,” one student said. “I did my work this morning. My brother is doing his work right now… When are we going back to school? I keep asking my teacher, when are we going back.”
Casale explained the school schedule and hoped they would be able return to school soon. When they approached the car, she handed them bags of food, toiletries and a special treat for each of them and their younger siblings: Cheryl’s Cookies.
“Thank you so much,” they said.
The three of them headed back to the kids’ home, each of them carrying bags on each arm. When all the food was delivered, Casale ended the visit with the same parting words she gives to all of her families:
“Let us know if you need anything.”