Friday, April 10, 2020

Community programs strive to keep students active and engaged with “Book Bus”

By Elizabeth Richards

Since school closed on March 16, the RSU14 backpack program has been very busy. As the school closure continues, other programs are piggybacking on the distribution times to offer other resources as well.

Director of School Nutrition Jeanne Reilly says the backpack program is distributing food on Tuesdays and Fridays in both Windham and Raymond. The program offers three bags of food: one with fruits and vegetables, another with milk and possibly other dairy items like yogurt and cheese, and a third with shelf stable items such as peanut butter, cereal, soup, tuna and pasta.

“Any family with children is welcome to come. They do not have to be a previous recipient of the backpack program,” Reilly said. “We do ask that it be families with children in the home, since we are operating with funds that were donated for the express purpose of feeding children.  Families do not need to sign up, they can just come to one of our sites during the hours that we are open.” Tuesday, March 31st, a “Book Bus” began distributing grade level books for K-3 students in conjunction with the backpack program.

Julie Young, instructional leader for Windham Primary School, coordinates the book bus. She said 100 bags of books were packed the first week and 80-100 more, which also included some basic school supplies such as paper, pencils, glue sticks and construction paper, had already been packed for the second week.

Families can pick up a new set of books each week, Young said, and books should not be returned. The books being distributed are from a large supply of retired curriculum materials, she said, and include individual paperbacks as well as anthologies.

On the first week of distribution, there were enough bags assembled for every family who asked for one, Young said. Bags were also sent to Raymond Elementary School for distribution. Young said that they have enough materials for every child, though they haven’t been packing that many since they didn’t know how many would come. “We’d love for every child to come and get a bag,” she said, adding that delivery is also possible.

https://www.egcu.orgDistributing reading material is important, Young said, because it’s difficult for parents to have leveled materials, especially for younger children who go through their material quickly. Although digital libraries are available, not all children have access to those, she said. “We wanted to make sure that we have some non-digital opportunities for our kids to continue to learn,” she said.

Reilly added that though the official book bus is on Tuesdays, there have also been some boxes of books and other reading materials that families can take available on Fridays.

Windham Parks and Recreation is also offering resources to families during this difficult time. This week, they began to add their weekly edition of “Useful News” to the lunches being sent home, so that families who may not receive it through email have access, said director Linda Brooks. This newsletter offers tips on enjoying the outdoors safely, as well as information on events and available resources.

“We continue to offer programming opportunities to our residents, but in many new ways, since people suddenly have much more leisure time in their lives,” Brooks said. “Parks and Recreation is all about helping people develop healthy leisure lifestyles, and outdoor activities are still being encouraged as an effective manner to manage this crisis. Moving forward, we are working on other activities that we can make available for children to do at home.”

Reilly said they are working to provide recipes, nutrition information, and culinary videos on social media channels and their website. “These will be ideas and tips for families to come together and experience some of the food we are sending home in our bags. We hope families will do some cooking together and some nutrition education, and even incorporate some science and math lessons with the food and recipes,” she said.
The backpack program is not accepting food donations at this time but welcomes financial support for the project. The bags provide each family with about $20 worth of food, and participation in the program is growing, she said. On Friday, April 3, they served 122 families, which is an estimated 300-400 students served.

Food can be picked up at Windham Middle School on Tuesdays and Fridays from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and at Raymond Elementary School on Tuesdays and Fridays from 1:30 to 3 pm. They are delivering to families in quarantine or who do not have transportation, Reilly said. If transportation is an issue, families can reach out to Reilly at or district chef, Ryan Roderick at

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