Rochester Hills resident Curtis Newell loads milk into a car at Southfield High School for the Arts and Technology Sept. 18. Southfield Public Schools has helped organize free food and milk distributions for community members.

Rochester Hills resident Curtis Newell loads milk into a car at Southfield High School for the Arts and Technology Sept. 18. Southfield Public Schools has helped organize free food and milk distributions for community members.

Photo by Donna Agusti


School district partners to distribute free cases of produce, dairy to residents

By: Mark Vest | Southfield Sun | Published September 22, 2020

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SOUTHFIELD — When Southfield Public Schools was offered an opportunity to distribute free food to community members earlier this year, Aaron Marshall, who is the student support coordinator and retention specialist for the district, said, “The initial thing was, ‘Get a couple hundred boxes to see how it goes.’”

As part of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Farmers to Families program, the district took advantage of a chance to help feed local residents via distributing cases of produce.

The first distribution was scheduled for May 15, and there was concern about what would be done with all the extra boxes of food if more than a couple hundred were requested.

However, someone from Perfect Pact LLC, the district’s collaborative partner in the project, “convinced us that we can get more of it off as long as we marketed it right.”

The district ended up deciding to request a thousand boxes. By the end of the day, those boxes were all gone.

On multiple occasions since that original distribution, the district continued to help provide food on Fridays at Southfield High School for the Arts and Technology.

The food distributions were on a first-come, first-served basis and were made possible due to Perfect Pact receiving a grant from the USDA.

“It’s really been great for our families,” Marshall said.

Things got even better after the district partnered with Prairie Farms, which also received a grant, allowing for dairy products to also be included among the distributions.

Some of the items received by those who have headed out to Southfield A&T include potatoes, onions, strawberries, carrots, celery, milk — including chocolate and strawberry — French onion dip and sour cream.

Marshall said over 20,000 produce boxes and 10,000 dairy boxes have been given away.

The food distributions were available to more than just students and families within the district.

“We open this to the entire community and surrounding communities,” Marshall said.

The boxes are placed in trunks so that no one has to get out of their vehicle.

A woman who received some of the items helped put it in perspective for Marshall.

“She says, ‘I lost my job. I have very limited income. … Every Friday you give this to me for free, so I’m saving $50 to $75 every week. That allows me to pay my car bill; that allows me to pay my car insurance,’” Marshall said. “You really don’t think about it when you’re out there. You’re giving it, and it feels good, and the people need it. … But when she broke it down by numbers for us, it really made a lot (of) sense. And she, of course, isn’t the only one in that boat with this whole pandemic going on.”

Marshall said, “we’ve never finished a distribution with food left.”

For as beneficial as the items are for those receiving them, Marshall gets something out of it too.

“It’s very rewarding,” he said. “It brings our community together. In this time of sorrow, it’s a really bright spot every Friday when people come out there, hang out with us.”

Volunteer G.S. Gaines has also gotten something out of taking time to help others.

“This program is as much a help to the mental health of volunteers as it is to those receiving the food,” Gaines wrote via email. “This program gives all the people involved, recipients and volunteers, the chance to get out and see that we will survive and prosper. This is fresh food given out by volunteers with smiles on (their) faces, letting the recipients know that they are valued.”

Marshall acknowledged the roles that have been played by volunteers, as well as district employees, such as Southfield Public Schools Superintendent Jennifer Martin-Green, Daryl Beebe — who is the director of student support and stakeholder engagement, and Anika Corbett, who is the director of communications for the district.

The district’s partnership with Perfect Pact recently ended. However, Southfield Public Schools has a new partnership with Gordon Food Services.

A new six-week round of distributions is expected to begin in October. For updated information, visit southfieldk12.org and click on Calendar or District News.

Southfield A&T is located at 24675 Lahser Road in Southfield.

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