Early Head Start Provides Healthy Food for Growing Bodies and Minds

Feb 24, 2021

Before the pandemic hit, Early Head Start Program Director Kelli Rhoades and her staff hosted monthly community dinners for the families enrolled in the program. When social distancing protocols prevented the group from gathering, however, Rhoades and her staff were determined to figure out a way to continue providing food to the families.

“Some of the kids would have three or four helpings at our dinners, so we knew they were coming hungry,” said Rhoades. “We wanted to make sure they were still getting the food they needed, even when we couldn’t have a meal together in person.”

Since the start of the pandemic in March, nine Early Head Start educators have delivered nearly 2,000 meals – along with baby food, formula and canned goods -- to Early Head Start families in Omaha. The staff members deliver the food when they make their weekly home visits. If a family member tests positive for COVID-19, the staff arranges a contactless doorstep delivery of the meal.  

“It was a process of trial and error to figure out how to keep the food cold or hot on our routes, which crisscross all over Douglas County,” said Rhoades. “We needed something that wouldn’t spoil or spill.” Rhoades eventually contracted with Treat America to provide frozen casseroles, not only because they travel well, but also because they can be baked on the day they are delivered or kept in the freezer to be used by the families at a later time.

Early Head Start’s research-based Parents as Teachers (PAT) curriculum is designed to foster healthy attachments between parents/primary caregivers and their infants and toddlers. The program also connects families with resources and referrals for housing, Medicaid, SNAP food benefits and other assistance, in addition to providing nutrition and developmental assessments and encouragement for parents and caregivers as they transition to self-sufficiency.

While many Early Head Start programs are based at childcare centers, The Salvation Army’s program is largely home-based, which allows for even more interaction between the parents and educators. “They spend an hour and half every week with each family inside their homes, so it’s very intensive,” said Rhoades. Many of those visits have been conducted virtually in recent months, but in-person visits are scheduled whenever possible.

Rhoades looks forward to the day when she and her staff can gather safely with the families for monthly dinners once again. Until then, however, she feels good knowing they are getting nutritious food to the families that need it most.

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For more information about The Salvation Army’s Early Head Start program or to apply for services, visit our website, call 402-898-7504 or email EHSintake@usc.salvationarmy.org.

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