Harper Woods Superintendent Stephen McGhee delivers meals to one of the families in the school district as part of the “Making the Season Bright” program Dec. 18.

Harper Woods Superintendent Stephen McGhee delivers meals to one of the families in the school district as part of the “Making the Season Bright” program Dec. 18.

Photo by Brendan Losinski

Harper Woods Schools helps feed families for the holidays

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published January 22, 2021

HARPER WOODS — A school district is supposed to give children an education, but what many often forget is that a district also is in charge of making sure its students are well fed so they can learn.

It’s a goal that has been more difficult with the COVID-19 pandemic since students are often learning from home, and resources are more difficult to provide. Harper Woods Schools has been fulfilling this mission despite the challenges all year and exemplified this with its “Making the Season Bright” program Dec. 18.

“Today is entitled ‘Making the Season Bright,’ which is a project we’re sponsoring through the district due to these unprecedented times of COVID to help families,” explained Harper Woods Superintendent Stephen McGhee. “We’re serving more than 400 meals, 150 of which are donated. Each one of the building leaders have identified those families who will receive the free meals. The other 250 are sold for $5 per dinner.”

“It is first come, first served for the 250 meals for sale, and the 150 meals were set aside for families from our different buildings who were determined to be in need,” added Bre Wilson, the district’s public relations strategist and radio/television instructor.

The meals were given out at the College and Career Institute building. Families pulled up in their cars, and volunteers would run out and deliver the meals to them.

“(Each meal) has chicken, braised beef, macaroni and cheese, some Hoppin’ Johns (peas and rice), bread pudding and cornbread,” said Wilson. “The Wayne County Department of Health and Human Services donated 24,000 masks that we are passing out with the meals as well.”

“The CCI is the beacon of the district,” remarked McGhee. “It’s the first building we started to refurbish after I got here, knowing that the focus was going to be getting students college-ready and career-ready. That was part of my initial mission and vision, and we are meeting in a once-empty building that is now fully functional and serving students and families.”

Wilson said that she saw many people very thankful that such a service was offered in time for Christmas.

“What I’m seeing as people pull up to pick up their meals is that they are very grateful to have this opportunity because we are in the middle of a pandemic, so as a school district we are happy to do something nice for our community,” she said. “We are letting parents and the community know we are here for them during these unprecedented times.”

Harper Woods Schools has been working with its food services provider, Chartwells Higher Education, to make sure students have still been getting access to food all year.

“The district has served over 125,000 meals through our partnership with Chartwells (this past year),” said McGhee. “When we still had face-to-face learning, we had our annual buffets where people could come in and have a meal. We, of course, had to adjust to be COVID compliant.”

He went on to say that the meal services offered by schools are more important than many people recognize.

“As a building-level leader, when I was principal, and even as I was coming up as a student, meals have always been important,” he said. “Not everyone has the opportunity to have breakfast, lunch and dinner within a household. When you think about it, you probably spend more time at school — about seven or eight hours a day — than you do any other place. You have to accommodate that and remember that no learning takes place if you’re hungry.”

Wilson said that the district wants families to know that if they are in need of assistance as a result of the troubles resulting from the pandemic, whether that is due to health issues, financial issues or if students need extra counseling, the district will support them.

“We want to let the district know we are here for them at a time when a lot of people are struggling and make spirits bright,” she said. “From March until now it has been unpredictable and we wanted to do something nice.”

Both McGhee and Wilson said they want people to know the district is ready to help its families.

“No matter what’s going on, the district of Harper Woods is going to support your efforts and we will do everything we can to make not only the holidays bright, but after the holidays as well. We are supporting people and uplifting as we climb,” McGhee said.