CIS Eastern PA Supports Adopt-A-Block Program to Meet COVID-19 Needs in Reading Community
Wanda Colon, CIS Family and Community Engagement Liaison at Southern Middle School coordinates a large team of volunteers to make weekly deliveries and check-ins.
With a mission founded on the power of relationships, Communities in Schools of Eastern Pennsylvania (CIS of Eastern PA) is doing their part to connect with neighbors during the COVID-19 pandemic by supporting Reading's Adopt-A-Block program in response to local restrictions that limit community services. The program provides Reading School District’s Southern Middle School (SoMS) community, including households without students, with vital resources. Schools in the Adopt-A-Block program include Southern Middle School feeder schools Amanda E. Stout Elementary and 10th and Penn Elementary.
Adopt-A-Block was spearheaded by SoMS principal, Andrew Kidd, when he realized in the summer of 2020 that the coming school year would look significantly different. Since September, every Wednesday from 4:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Adopt-A-Block program volunteers deliver over 100 meal kits that include non-perishable food, COVID-19 testing and vaccine resources, internet access and health insurance options, food pantry and rent assistance information in both English and Spanish. School supplies or arts and crafts are occasionally included. So far, there have been 25 weeks of kit deliveries and the program will continue until June 9. Just as impactful, approximately 2,440 connections with neighborhood families have been made this far.
“Adopt-A-Block transformed the community and the Southern Middle School family. Having the ability to create strong relationships and provide the support our neighborhoods need during the pandemic has been invaluable to all involved,” said Wanda Colon, CIS of Eastern PA’s Family and Community Engagement Liaison to Southern Middle School. “None of this could have been possible without the commitment from the top down. Without our administration’s leadership, we would not have impacted as many lives or offered the positivity families need to be resilient.”
Prior to the pandemic, up to 200 families relied on SoMS for weekly meals, information sharing, student assistance, health and mental health resources, and entertainment. The Family Nights forged relationships between the school and surrounding neighborhood families and became vital information hubs. The school’s Adopt-A-Block program is a COVID-19 emergency pivot in response to pandemic precautions, including social distancing and limited gatherings.
During Adopt-A-Block kit drop-offs, volunteers and school staff organized by Wanda engage with students and parents to ensure that they are receiving the food and information they need to meet their basic human needs and promote student growth and family engagement. These family check-ins allow volunteers and SoMS staff to offer additional necessary resources. Volunteers range from school staff and teachers, college students, neighbors and law enforcement officers.
“Communities In Schools of Eastern Pennsylvania will do whatever it takes to reach students and families during the COVID pandemic. The Adopt-A-Block program is a perfect example of how we are supporting social isolation and barriers of food, basic needs and human connection,” said Tim Mulligan, CEO & President, CIS of Eastern PA. “Adopt a Block is about dignity, support and building community through caring relationships.”
Materials for Adopt-A-Block kits are provided by neighborhood business owners, churches, community organizations, and generous volunteers. Helping Harvest, a Reading nonprofit dedicated to collecting, purchasing, storing and distributing food in Berks and Schuylkill Counties, provides nonperishable goods every Monday for kit preparation and 25-pound boxes of additional food resources for neighbors who ask for more assistance.
“Helping Harvest provides food to more than 320 programs throughout Berks and Schuylkill counties, and we are glad that the Adopt-A-Block Program is one of them. The work that their volunteers are doing to reach out to people right where they are is wonderful,” said Jess Umbenhauer, Director of Programs and Community Engagement for Helping Harvest. “Throughout the pandemic, we have seen an increase in people accessing food assistance programs, and we are fortunate that we have such wonderful community partners that are willing to make sure that food is getting into the hands of people who need it.”
To volunteer with or donate to Adopt-A-Block, contact Wanda Colon at firstname.lastname@example.org.