Youngstown City Schools Provide Thanksgiving Dinner to 500 Families

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The Youngstown City School District has operated remotely since schools shut down in March. Because of the pandemic, there has been little face-to-face interaction between the school staff and its families.

In an effort to reach out to the Youngstown community before Thanksgiving, the district, with assistance from Sodexo|Roth, distributed Thanksgiving meals to 500 families and residents on Tuesday.

“We actually have more contact with our families than we ever have, even though they’re not coming in because parents are helping get the students ready for class and online,” McGuffey Elementary Assistant Principal Tim Filipovich said. “We’re communicating more with them and we’re able to reach out to them with things like this. It’s really special.”

The meals consisted of a turkey, stuffing, 10 pounds of potatoes, vegetables and instructions for cooking. The food was distributed at Martin Luther King and McGuffey Elementary Schools and Chaney High School between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. The school district targeted the families that were most in need through their parent engagement coordinators.

Shawn Painter, manager at Sodexo|Roth hands a bag of vegetables and other side for a Thanksgiving dinner to a family from McGuffey Elementary in Youngstown.

The district reached out to parents through social media to determine the need. If parents were interested, they called ahead to reserve a meal.

“We have a really great volunteer group at Sodexo|Roth,” said Sean Wardle, senior director of national services. “They’re always looking for ways to outreach and things we could do to help the less fortunate.”

John Schuler, Sodexo|Roth’s director of marketing and communications, is friends with Chris Stanley, a social studies teacher at Martin Luther King Elementary. The two helped coordinate the event.

“We had the supplies and the ability to do this and [YCS] had the need, so that’s where it stemmed from,” said Christina Denham, Sodexo|Roth digital coordinator.

Families started to pick up their Thanksgiving meals around 1 p.m. Some 80 were set aside for parents that couldn’t get their meals immediately and 26 baskets from McGuffey were delivered to parents needing extra support.

Of the 500 meals that were distributed, some 100 turkeys were distributed to the residents on a first-come-first-serve basis.

“It’s just so important this time of year, especially with everything that’s going on right now in the country,” Filipovich said.

Of the 500 meals that were distributed, volunteers distributed some 100 turkeys to families.

YCS held food distributions for students during the spring and summer to help provide healthy meals to students outside of school. However, the program was paused due to an increase in COVID-19 cases within the district. The Thanksgiving meals were the first time parents and staff interacted in person since the program stopped on Nov. 12.

On Tuesday, the Ohio Department of Health announced 8,604 new COVID-19 cases in the state over the previous 24 hours. 

Filipovich said Justin Jennings, CEO of Youngstown City Schools, plans to revisit the food distribution program in the near future.

Breanne Martin, a parent of children in 6th and 2nd grades in Youngstown City Schools, said the food distributions are important because of the financial limitations of some of the families in the district. But she said the district’s willingness to help the community and its families is more important during the holiday season.

“To have something given to you without worrying about knowing how you’re going to feed your children or yourself, it helps in a way,” Martin said. “It’s given to you and it’s appreciated.”

Pictured at top: On hand for the meal distribution were McGuffey Elementary Custodians Jose Montero and Neida Rios; substitute secretary Carma Clark; Millie Uscianowski, McGuffey Elementary parent engagement coordinator; McGuffey Elementary nurse Kitty Montero; Nick Opencar, manager at Sodexo|Roth; volunteer Tom Dugan; McGuffey Elementary Secretary Linda Dugan; Shawn Painter, manager at Sodexo|Roth; Scott Meli, director at Sodexo|Roth; Sean Wardle, senior director at Sodexo|Roth; and McGuffey Elementary Assistant Principal Tim Filipovich.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.