Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Stars offered after-school programming for Pasadena Unified School District students, as well as summer enrichment, mentoring support, and college student support. Its breadth of services meant that Stars would often serve students from kindergarten through their college years, walking families through their children’s entire educational experience.
Their deep relationships with their families became even more critical as COVID-19 and the accompanying school closures and financial crisis took hold in Pasadena. In addition to supporting their students through the challenges of transitioning to online learning, Stars assigned a staff member to each family participating in their program and conducted surveys to determine their needs and vulnerabilities.
“The trust we build with our families over the years allows them to open up and share their challenges honestly,” said Nancy Stiles, executive director at Stars. “We have students living without access to technology, often in multi-generational households with immune-compromised family members, and 85 percent of our parents have either had their hours cut or lost their jobs.”
Recognizing the urgent need for food and supplies, the staff at Stars worked quickly to connect their families with donations and food programs, like PUSD’s free meals for students. However, there were no options for families without reliable transportation, so Stars coordinated home meal delivery, seven days a week, with help from volunteers and partner organizations.
As the pandemic wore on the food program grew quickly, and Stars is now operating a full-scale food distribution program. One staff member has stepped into the role of Wellness Coordinator and works with a consulting nutritionist to plan healthy, culturally appropriate meals. For households with COVID-19 positive family members, Stars delivers prepared meals customized to their health and needs.
Each week 45-50 families come to Stars to pick up groceries, recipes, games, educational activities, and other supplies. Masked, gloved, and six feet apart, Stars staff members distribute food, check in with parents, ask how students are doing, hand out school supplies, and send books home for children to read. In addition to meeting basic needs, Stars is also working to preserve the sense of community among their families, coordinating virtual support groups for parents to share resources, recipes, and experiences.
As their families now struggle to pay rent and stay safely housed, Stars is expanding its work to homelessness prevention, partnering with Door of Hope to train an intake case manager and provide up to three months of rental support.
“We have shifted from after-school programs to food distribution, but no matter what services we are providing, Stars is about relationships,” said Stiles. “We are a trusted resource for many struggling families, and we will work to support them no matter what their needs.”